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Lessons for Israel and Iran from “Persian Incursion”

Wargaming an Israeli attack

In the summer of 2010, Clash of Arms published a wargame that I, along with Chris Carlson and Jeff Dougherty, had designed. A political-military simulation, Persian Incursion explored the consequences of an Israeli military campaign to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.

I use the term “explore” because we weren’t sure how it would turn out. Too many unknowns, like the actual status of Iran’s nuclear program. Too many unmeasurables, like the resolve of Israel’s and Iran’s leadership. Too many untried technologies, like Israel’s Arrow ballistic-missile defense system.

It’s a complicated subject, and one way to examine the issue is to “bang the rocks together.”

Give all factors free play and see which ones dominate the action. In an earlier article, I wrote about some we discovered that had been missed by others (mostly in the media).

Persian Incursion Game Map

Persian Incursion game map.

This time, I’ll describe strategies that help one side or the other. Any relationship between strategies that work in a game and might work in the real world will have to be determined by the reader.

This is not a complete list. I wish we’d had enough time to play Persian Incursion to get a statistically valid sample, but there are other crises, and other games to write. …

In Persian Incursion, there are three ways for the Israeli player to win the game. First, each time he or she strikes a site associated with the nuclear weapons program (not Bushehr!), there is a chance the Iranian leadership decides that any further money spent on developing nukes will be a waste. The chance after one strike is nil, but it increases with each successive attack. Big hits are better than small ones.

The second way is to cripple the Iranian oil industry, reducing both its refining and terminal capacity by 50 percent. Faced with a collapse of its energy industry, Iran sues for peace.

The final way is to reduce Iranian domestic opinion to the point that it loses confidence in its leadership’s ability and sues for peace. This is not “regime change.” There are mechanisms within the Iranian constitution that allow leaders to be replaced. The new government won’t especially want to make friends with Israel or the West. They’ve just decided that the nuclear program is a bad idea, and the new administration will direct its resources elsewhere.

 

For the Israeli Player

Don’t necessarily drop bombs on the first turn of the game. Look at the political cards available to you. Some of them might improve relations with whomever you’ve arranged a transit corridor with. Others might weaken the Iranians’ relationship with a patron, especially China, or damage Iranian domestic opinion.

Politics is all about opportunities. Capitalize on them first, then drop the hammer. Remember, the Iranians are limited in how they can respond until your first attack.

Go for the fast win. You may not get it, but time is not your friend. The longer he has to react, the more damage he can do to you.

Go for the big hit every time. Your real target is the minds of the Iranian leadership, so choose devastation over “surgical strikes” on primary targets. Leave not one scorched stone standing on another. It will take several attacks before you’ll have a decent chance to shut the program down, so make each one count.

The Iranian air defenses are pathetic, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored. Suter attacks can work spectacularly well, but if they don’t, be prepared to either abort (see lack of time above) or have a really good plan B with surface-to-air and fighter suppression. Israel has the tools. Make sure your strike planners have studied the route and can deal with any air defense threat along the way.

If Iranian aircraft come up to intercept your strike package, kill them quickly and thoroughly. If there’s one thing an Israeli strike package is not short of, it’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles and Pythons. Better to waste a few than roll misses and watch an Iranian F-4 Phantom get off a lucky shot. Those are the percentages he will be playing, so watch for it.

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    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-25124">
    Ulick mcEvaddy

    I agree with the strategy to hit hard and fast. The air defences are not formidable but should not be underestimated. Sanitise the air defences first before risking the strike package. Send multiple strikes in quick succession and miss no opportunity to deplete oil production refining capability as this depletes the domestic energy capability and takes a long period for restoration. Try to avoid as much population casualties as possible and the Iranian leaders may
    as you suggest realise they cannot win this war. Then they may realise the quest for a Nuclear
    capability is futile. The Sunni,such as Suudia Arabia can not afford a Shia nuclear bomb at their throats,so little chance of Sunni aggression against Israel. Bottom line is Israel can not afford to
    have Iran with a nuclear strike capability. The regime has handed Israel a ’cause belli’ as it’s President has declared he wants to wipe Israel from the map.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-25415">

    “Make sure your strike planners have studied the route …Learn and work the maintenance rules for the aircraft you’re operating…” I’m sorry, but that’s all you can come up with? These recommendations are ridiculous. Is this a strategic level war game or a middle school project?

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-25440">
    Shahbaz Minhas

    This Project ‘my foot’ should be left out in the “Elementary playground”. Dont bring it into the classroom, in case you teacher smacks your bottom with a 12-inch ruler.

    “Its a Complicated Subject” … sure it is.. you dont understand it.

    “Bang the Rocks together” … how long have you been simulating wargames ?

    I respect the Israeli Intelligence and their thorough planning … they are good !. For this to possibly succeed, its going to require not just ‘banging rocks together”, but a lot of smart heads working together and an even ‘a lot more luck’. I will be first to admit, how difficult this is.

    Nobody can predict the long-term outcome for the region, if the try and succeed and
    Nobody can predict the long-term outcome for the region, if the try and fail.

    It is already a powder-keg ,with an ‘open flame’ right there.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-25467">

    It surely is a complicated subject, but war gaming has a very, very long history of success in discovering the variables as well as determining some of the possible courses of action in any given scenario. It is a tool that has been used by militaries since the early 1800s, and a useful one.