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Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker: "A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials."

Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands American forces in the Middle East, was said to be troubled by results of the war game. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)
Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands American forces in the Middle East, was said to be troubled by results of the war game. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

Pentagon Finds Perils for US If Israel Were to Strike Iran

By Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, The New York Times

20 March 12


classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials.

The officials said the so-called war game was not designed as a rehearsal for American military action - and they emphasized that the exercise's results were not the only possible outcome of a real-world conflict.

But the game has raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran, the officials said. In the debate among policy makers over the consequences of any Israeli attack, that reaction may give stronger voice to those in the White House, Pentagon and intelligence community who have warned that a strike could prove perilous for the United States.

The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an additional two years. However, other Pentagon planners have said that America's arsenal of long-range bombers, refueling aircraft and precision missiles could do far more damage to the Iranian nuclear program - if President Obama were to decide on a full-scale retaliation.

The exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs in the Pentagon; in Tampa, Fla., where the headquarters of the Central Command is located; and in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of an Israeli strike. But the exercise was written to assess a pressing, potential, real-world situation.

In the end, the war game reinforced to military officials the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of a strike by Israel, and a counterstrike by Iran, the officials said.

American and Israeli intelligence services broadly agree on the progress Iran has made to enrich uranium. But they disagree on how much time there would be to prevent Iran from building a weapon if leaders in Tehran decided to go ahead with one.

With the Israelis saying publicly that the window to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb is closing, American officials see an Israeli attack on Iran within the next year as a possibility. They have said privately that they believe that Israel would probably give the United States little or no warning should Israeli officials make the decision to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

Officials said that, under the chain of events in the war game, Iran believed that Israel and the United States were partners in any strike against Iranian nuclear sites and therefore considered American military forces in the Persian Gulf as complicit in the attack. Iranian jets chased Israeli warplanes after the attack, and Iranians launched missiles at an American warship in the Persian Gulf, viewed as an act of war that allowed an American retaliation.

Internal Look has long been one of Central Command's most significant planning exercises, and is carried out about twice a year to assess how the headquarters, its staff and command posts in the region would respond to various real-world situations.

Over the years, it has been used to prepare for various wars in the Middle East. According to the defense Web site, military planners during the cold war used Internal Look to prepare for a move by the Soviet Union to seize Iranian oil fields. The American war plan at the time called for the Pentagon to march nearly six Army divisions north from the Persian Gulf to the Zagros Mountains of Iran to blunt a Soviet attack.

In December 2002, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who was the top officer at Central Command, used Internal Look to test the readiness of his units for the coming invasion of Iraq.

Many experts have predicted that Iran would try to carefully manage the escalation after an Israeli first strike in order to avoid giving the United States a rationale for attacking with its far superior forces. Thus, it might use proxies to set off car bombs in world capitals or funnel high explosives to insurgents in Afghanistan to attack American and NATO troops.

While using surrogates might, in the end, not be enough to hide Iran's instigation of these attacks, the government in Tehran could at least publicly deny all responsibility.

Some military specialists in the United States and in Israel who have assessed the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory. Thus, they argue that Iran would not directly strike American military targets, whether warships in the Persian Gulf or bases in the region.

Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior Iranian leadership, and is informed by the awareness that even the most detailed war games cannot predict how nations and their leaders will react in the heat of conflict.

Yet these specialists continue their work, saying that any insight on how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether the Israelis carry out a strike - and what the American position will be if they do.

Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil prices.

"A war is no picnic," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio in November. But if Israel feels itself forced into action, the retaliation would be bearable, he said. "There will not be 100,000 dead or 10,000 dead or 1,000 dead. The state of Israel will not be destroyed." your social media marketing partner


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+8 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-20 17:27
I never trust the NY Times. I see the only reason for reading it to see what is being propagated to the people who do read it and think it is based on fact.
+2 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-21 01:08
What source of information do you trust?
+2 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-21 11:47 (mostly)
RT (russia today russian television)
consortium news
asia times (usually)
electronic intefada (and associated 'electronic' sites)

Stories need to be cross referenced with other sources, and biases taken into account. Uruknet is generally quite good but heavily biased against Assad in Syria.

One has to read sites over a period of time and see how the stories chack out in the long term as stories are developed and become more clear. Also, be skeptical of everything for a while -- even good journalists can be wrong or misinformed, and all versions of stories shuold be kept in mind and constantly evaluated. Al Jazeera is no longer reliable. McClatchy is relatively good as far a domestic sources go.

One also needs to look at who is reporting. Pepe Escobar, for instance, is generally realiable, as is Jeremy Scahill, Robert Pilger, Greg Palast, and other who I can't recall at the moment.

There are others, but these are who I access regularly. And, of course, one can look at original documents and primary sources, as available. Unfortunately, it's quite time consuming and difficult to build a high level of confidence -- but relatively easy to find out who consistently lies or biases the news, pretty much the mainstream, corporate media.
+15 # Majikman 2012-03-20 17:55
"In December 2002, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who was the top officer at Central Command, used Internal Look to test the readiness of his units for the coming invasion of Iraq." That went well.
OTOH maybe they planned on it lasting as long as it has and didn't want us to know.
I wonder if the Russia/Syria development went into Internal Look's hopper. What's the military's expression for FUBAR?
The airlines have an expression for an impending crash "Put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye"
+15 # Innocent Victim 2012-03-20 19:07
It is mind boggling that our former republic now has a Central Command, a command here there and everywhere! We are indeed the inheritors of the Roman Empire or the Mongol, which was even larger. An expensive general or admiral at the top of each one! How jolly!
+5 # Anarchist 23 2012-03-20 22:41
In times of madness only the mad know the score. Weighing in as one of the mad (I am an astrologer among other strange hobbbies) the earliest the Isrealis will strike is sometime in early May when Mars is direct in motion. If the GSA (Geheim Staats of Amerikka-former ly known as the USA) goes in, it might be in Decwhen Mars contacts Antares. I wonder if all those generals remember Persia, history and 'the Parthenian Shot? Iran now has the Shalub/Sunburn missle to shoot with-travels below radar range and at Mach 2. A carrier is a sitting duck. Given the history of bombing campaignes-Viet Nam for a modern day example- we will have to send 'boots on the ground' and then-we will be facing a country 4 times the size of Iraq with 3 times the population (or the other way round-I forget)And now Russia has troops in Syria. Jocularity all way around. Obombo probably won't 'commit' until after the election.Guess I am moving to Argentina sooner than I thought.
+1 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-20 23:58
Good article!

New York Times’ Bill Keller sets ground rules for next war
By Bill Van Auken
21 March 2012

On the ninth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller has penned a self-serving piece that obscures his own role in justifying that war, while setting ground rules for launching the next one.

Keller’s headline—“Falli ng in and out of war”—is an accurate reflection of the smug and cynical character of the well-heeled layer of establishment liberals of which he is a part, and which today constitutes a principal constituency for imperialism.

+3 # X Dane 2012-03-21 00:50
Sounds like just what the republicans want: another war to bankrupt the country,
That will insure that social security and medicare will DIE A NATURAL DEATH. There will be NO MORE MONEY, so we can't keep it alive. Educating our young??? Sorry there is no more money.

Fixing our aging infrastructure. ...again NO MONEY. More bridges will collapse and we will not be able to "bring goods to market", so to speak. We will surely doom ourselves to our own destruction.

If you seriously think THAT is what Obama want for a second term? I will say you are crazy. It is infuriating that Israel can get us into such disaster.

Israel is not a friend it is a huge disastrous liability, and will very likely be the doom of our country.
+4 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-21 01:16
One wonders if there is a magic computer program to tell us what the situation will be after the shooting stops. I hope it isn't the one the Bush Administration used for Iraq.
0 # Valleyboy 2012-03-21 02:43
No bad for the Times.
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-21 11:53
One thing to watch for in media is the 'poison pill' -- a story which is largely correct but sneaks in little nasties. Also important thigs which are left out. And, of course, the overall framing which distorts how a sotry is likely to be interpreted.

One thing which might have mentiond is that war games are not reliable predictors of war -- plans are carefully made, based on various assumptions, and within hours they all go out the window because the opponent doesn't respond as expected, or other unaccounted factors come into play. War games are largley designed -- and manipulated -- to act like a commercial to sell what policy makers have already decided they want (much as intelligence is, even if not going so far as Cheney's B-team).
0 # 666 2012-03-21 05:50
Article assumes US/Is ONLY want to neutralize Iran's nuke capability; not so sure about that. IMO there are 3 possibilities:

1) The "Double-Down": Iran weathers a US/Is strike on nuke facilities, digs deeper, & keeps working for long-range "security". Iran looks restrained & bets major collateral damage will turn opinion definitively against US/Is & destabilize region. IMO, quite likely if this is really about nukes & Is.

2) "The Martyr": If OIL & "regime change" are the ultimate goals, ANY scenario will lead to a long, messy, full-scale ground war (IMO the MOST likely scenario). Iran fights to the death, wins opinion, destabilizes region (& perhaps US), but goes the way of Iraq. The greater the likely destabilization , the more you will hear justifications of "regime change in iran will bring stability & end terrorism". When you hear this regularly, this war really is imminent.

3) "The Cake Walk": US/Is strike nuke facilities, Iran counter-strikes & US involvement is punitive containment. This is more a public sales pitch for "regime change" than a reality. Once it starts, any "limit" is unlikely & assumes US belligerence can contain a weakened Iran--like Iraq after Gulf War I--until they are weak enough to pick off. IMO we're assessing the odds of this now, & the military is telling the pols "it's not a good bet". et it focuses on the short term, so it's the most salable political strategy & the most likely.
+6 # walt 2012-03-21 06:30
What about this idea?

If Israel attacks Iran, they fend for themselves? Not complicated, eh?

They want to invade a country based on a possibility and not a reality, have been told not to, yet they still lobby the US for war.

Time for some real change! We need to stop using war as our foreign policy. Time too for Obama to show his first ever peace initiative. That is, unless he is proud to continue in Bush's self-described role of "war president."

Or maybe Obama will land in a fighter jet and proclaim another "mission accomplished?"
+2 # Doubter 2012-03-21 09:54
A General intelligent enough to know that starting wars has unpredictable consequences.

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