MESS Report / Israel Is Learning to Live With a Nuclear Iran

If a recent academic simulation proved anything, it was that Israel was coming to terms with 'the day after' an Iran nuke.

A few remarks following the "Iran – The Day After" simulation at the Interdisciplinary Center's Lauder School of Government, in which we both took part earlier this week.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

1. The big news is in the title

"The Day After" is, of course, the day after the bomb, as in nuclear bomb, a scenario which Israelis refused to even consider up until a year ago. The Israeli establishment still treats it as a taboo, since an open gearing up toward the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb could be taken by the international community as a sign of an Israeli acquiescence. It could also be seen as abandoning the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, followed by the possible loosening of the West's determination of preventing Iran from obtaining such capabilities. Government and defense establishment officials were indeed absent from the IDC simulation in Herzliya, but the closing discussion was attended by opposition leader Tzipi Livni as well as former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz. Other academic forums in Israel have also been publicly discussing the day after, similarly to their counterparts in American think tanks. During the IDC meet, Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi, the former head of military intelligence, quoted an Iranian official who said in 1995 that Tehran was observing North Korea's nuclear attempts, adding that Iran would act accordingly. Pyongyang reached its goal, and Iran, in the wake of the uranium exchange deal signed with Brazil and Turkey this week, seems to be well on its way.

2. America is on its way to acceptance

The IDC simulation fits into the workings that have already taken place. Israel, even though it would not admit to it publicly, is warily watching what looks like the Obama administration's failings in the face of Iranian maneuvers. The United States may still succeed in its attempts to impose international sanctions, but those sanctions seem unlikely to derail the Mullahs from their efforts, with the probability of an American military strike seeming even slimmer. Does all that mean that Israel had put aside the option of a military strike and is preparing itself for the "day after"? Not necessarily., That's certainly not what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are saying in closed circles. However, with the essential American "green light" as unlikely as it seems now, it is hard to imagine Israel striking anytime soon.

3. Iran and Lebanon

The IDC simulation centered on a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah with a hypothetically nuclear Iran in the background. Similar to other simulations taken place in the West in the last two years, the premise is that an Iranian nuclear umbrella would give more freedom to organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, encouraging them to provoke Israel. The Herzliya panelists reached the conclusion that Hezbollah's possession of a "dirty" or radioactive bomb would bring about the kind of American determination that would lead to an international military task force, which would in turn disarm Hezbollah. We'll believe it when we see it.

4. When the going gets tough. the Palestinians become irrelevant

Disarming the Israeli-Palestinian landmine, a central Obama administration claim has it, would aid in cooling the region, and maybe even in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. But, at least as simulation participants found out, the Palestinians have turned into a negligible entity. The most significant maneuvers were led by the United States, Israel, and the European Union, with some aid offered by the more moderate Arab states. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were virtually out of the game.

5. The ticking clock

Many journalists have expressed their desire to act as "flies on the wall" in decisive deliberations. And, while there is little similarity between a simulation of the kind held in the IDC and real life, it was still fascinating to watch an experienced man like former Israel Air Force commander Eitan Ben Eliyahu weighing out the reactions as "defense minister" to hypothetical Hezbollah fire aimed at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters. Ben Eliyahu was cautious, but was forced to act fast under the pressure of the especially fast-moving stopwatch placed in front of him. And still, he did not take longer than a former subordinate of his, Dan Halutz, took to spur former prime minister Ehud Olmert's government into going to war in Lebanon in 2006.