Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran


Tihar Jail
Aug 6, 2009
Country flag
Alicia Cheng and Sarah Gephart, Mgmt. Design


Published: March 26, 2010

In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, declaring it could not live with the chance the country would get a nuclear weapons capability. In 2007, it wiped out a North Korean-built reactor in Syria. And the next year, the Israelis secretly asked the Bush administration for the equipment and overflight rights they might need some day to strike Iran’s much better-hidden, better-defended nuclear sites.

They were turned down, but the request added urgency to the question: Would Israel take the risk of a strike? And if so, what would follow?

Now that parlor game question has turned into more formal war games simulations. The government’s own simulations are classified, but the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution created its own in December. The results were provocative enough that a summary of them has circulated among top American government and military officials and in many foreign capitals.

For the sake of verisimilitude, former top American policymakers and intelligence officials — some well known — were added to the mix. They played the president and his top advisers; the Israeli prime minister and cabinet; and Iranian leaders. They were granted anonymity to be able to play their roles freely, without fear of blowback. (This reporter was invited as an observer.) A report by Kenneth M. Pollack, who directed the daylong simulation, can be found at the Saban Center’s Web site.

A caution: Simulations compress time and often oversimplify events. Often they underestimate the risk of error — for example, that by using faulty intelligence leaders can misinterpret a random act as part of a pattern of aggression. In this case, the actions of the American and Israeli teams seemed fairly plausible; the players knew the bureaucracy and politics of both countries well. Predicting Iran’s moves was another matter, since little is known about its decision-making process. —DAVID E. SANGER

Without telling the U.S. in advance, Israel strikes at six of Iran's most critical nuclear facilities, using a refueling base hastily set up in the Saudi Arabian desert without Saudi knowledge. (It is unclear to the Iranians if the Saudis were active participants or not.)

Already-tense relations between the White House and Israel worsen rapidly, but the lack of advance notice allows Washington to say truthfully that it had not condoned the attack.

In a series of angry exchanges, the U.S. demands that Israel cease its attacks, though some in Washington view the moment as an opportunity to further weaken the Iranian government, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Telling Israel it has made a mess, Washington essentially instructs the country to sit in a corner while the United States tries to clean things up.

Even while calling for restraint on all sides, the U.S. deploys more Patriot antimissile batteries and Aegis cruisers around the region, as a warning to Iran not to retaliate. Even so, some White House advisers warn against being sucked into the conflict, believing that Israel's real strategy is to lure America into finishing the job with additional attacks on the damaged Iranian facilities.

Despite warnings, Iran fires missiles at Israel, including its nuclear weapons complex at Dimona, but damage and casualties are minimal. Meanwhile, two of Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, launch attacks in Israel and fire rockets into the country.

Believing it already has achieved its main goal of setting back the nuclear program by years, Israel barely responds.

Iran, while wounded, sees long-term opportunities to unify its people - and to roll over its opposition parties - on nationalistic grounds. Its strategy is to mount low-level attacks on Israel while portraying the United States as a paper tiger - unable to control its ally and unwilling to respond to Iran.

Convinced that the Saudis had colluded with the Israelis, and emboldened by the measured initial American position, Iran fires missiles at the Saudi oil export processing center at Abqaiq, and tries to incite Shiite Muslims in eastern Saudi Arabia to attack the Saudi regime.

Iran also conducts terror attacks against European targets, in hopes that governments there will turn on Israel and the United States.

After a meeting of its divided leadership, Iran decides against directly attacking any American targets - to avoid an all-out American response.


Though Iran's retaliation against Israel causes only modest damage, critics in the Israeli media say the country's leaders, by failing to respond to every attack, have weakened the credibility of the nation's deterrence. Hezbollah fires up to 100 rockets a day into northern Israel, with some aimed at Haifa and Tel Aviv.

The Israeli economy comes to a virtual halt, and Israeli officials, urging American intervention, complain that one-third of the country's population is living in shelters. Hundreds of thousands flee Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Israel finally wins American acquiescence to retaliate against Hezbollah. It orders a 48-hour campaign by air and special forces against Lebanon and begins to prepare a much larger air and ground operation.

Knowing that its ultimate weapon is its ability to send oil prices sky high, Iran decides to attack Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, an oil industry center, with conventional missiles and begins mining the Strait of Hormuz.

A Panamanian-registered, Americanowned tanker and an American minesweeper are severely damaged. The price of oil spikes, though temporarily.

Unable to sit on the sidelines while oil supplies and American forces are threatened, Washington begins a massive military reinforcement of the Gulf region.

The game ends eight days after the initial Israeli strike. But it is clear the United States was leaning toward destroying all Iranian air, ground and sea targets in and around the Strait of Hormuz, and that Iran's forces were about to suffer a significant defeat. Debate breaks out over how much of Iran's nuclear program was truly crippled, and whether the country had secret backup facilities that could be running in just a year or two.


1. By attacking without Washington's advance knowledge, Israel had the benefits of surprise and momentum - not only over the Iranians, but over its American allies - and for the first day or two, ran circles around White House crisis managers.

2. The battle quickly sucked in the whole region - and Washington. Arab leaders who might have quietly applauded an attack against Iran had to worry about the reaction in their streets. The war shifted to defending Saudi oil facilities, and Iran's use of proxies meant that other regional players quickly became involved.

3. You can bomb facilities, but you can't bomb knowledge. Iran had not only scattered its facilities, but had also scattered its scientific and engineering leadership, in hopes of rebuilding after an attack.

4. No one won, and the United States and Israel measured success differently. In Washington, officials believed setting the Iranian program back only a few years was not worth the huge cost. In Israel, even a few years delay seemed worth the cost, and the Israelis argued that it could further undercut a fragile regime and perhaps speed its demise. Most of the Americans thought that was a pipe dream. —D.E.S.

Illustrations by Alicia Cheng and Sarah Gephart, Mgmt. Design.


Super Mod
Mar 24, 2009
Country flag
How did israel manage to have a refueling facility in Saudi Arabia without the Saudis knowing about it?

The analysis is just too simplistic I feel. There are just too many dynamics there. The israeli iranian game has been discussed quite a bit over here in DFI on another thread.

Solid Beast

Regular Member
Jan 12, 2010
Saud's are already host to a giant contingent of foreign troops on supposed Holy Soil they are supposed to be custodians of, what qualms they'd have of Israeli's using their land and airspace to attack Shia Iran I'm not really sure about. What's clear is that Saudi has no shame when it comes to dealing with Iran. Their hatred is real and pure, I witnessed it on a few occasions and some Arab nations hate Iran more than Israel.

I agree though that we are being very simplistic here. We are not taking into the equation that Iran already has weaponized nuclear capability and these plans are 1 decade too late.


Senior Member
May 6, 2009
Country flag
SCENARIOS-Global impact if Israel strikes Iran

Mon Mar 29, 2010

(Reuters) - If Israel were to strike Iran over its nuclear activities, markets would be watching one thing only - Iran's response.

The scale of that response could be the difference between a brief spike in oil prices and pushing the world back to economic crisis.

Below are possible scenarios together with projected potential market reactions suggested by analysts, economists and foreign policy strategists.


Tehran announces that Israel's military attacked civilian locations but inflicted little damage. It hurls furious rhetoric at Israel but stops short of any military response.

"It may make sense for the Iranians to play the victim," said IHS Global Insight Middle East analyst Gala Riani. "They may also use it to build the regime's legitimacy internally."

-- news of the strike would see oil prices spike $10-$20 and wider investor flight to safer assets such as U.S. treasuries, while equities and risky currencies would suffer. But without further action, sentiment would recover.

-- relatively used to conflict, Israeli markets might prove more resilient to the initial news. Some analysts suggest that a successful strike that significantly put back an Iranian nuclear program could be positive for Israeli markets.

Key unknowns:

-- assessing the effectiveness of an attack on Iranian facilities could prove almost impossible. The longer-term impact of the strikes on Iran's internal politics, regional politics and Western support for Israel would be hard to predict.

-- can Israel achieve its aims with a single strike, or would it require a more sustained operation potentially lasting several days and hitting markets much harder?


Iran steers clear of any overt response, but backs intensifying attacks by Hamas from the Palestinian territories and by Hezbollah from Lebanon. It might also back proxy attacks on Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The most likely response would be to increase their subversive activity across the Middle East," said IHS's Riani. "It would most likely be focused in Palestine, Lebanon and to a lesser extent around the Gulf."

-- might have some short-term impact on oil prices -- particularly if the attacks included Iraq -- but generally global markets would be little affected.

-- Israeli markets would likely take initial attacks in their stride, but a prolonged campaign would drag on the economy, driving up defense spending and undermining markets as they did during the Palestinian Intifada.

Key unknowns:

-- the duration of increased violence. Proxy violence could escalate to include militant attacks on Western and oil targets.

-- If Hezbollah strikes Israel, Israel will retaliate in a way that quickly expands the conflict. Israel has threatened to hold the governments of Lebanon and Syria responsible for any Hezbollah attacks.


Iran retaliates by launching ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. While more accurate than the Scuds launched by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, damage from each strike would be limited.

"It's certainly not something you can rule out," said Metsa Rahimi, intelligence analyst for risk consultancy Janusian. "The Iranians are going to want to retaliate. But they know if they do this, they are going to get hit back again."

-- oil prices would certainly spike higher, although attacks on Israeli cities would not directly have any impact on oil production. Wider global markets would sell off and watch nervously for any further escalation.

-- Israeli markets might again prove more resilient. They actually rallied in January 1991 during the missile attacks as it became clear the strikes were not chemical and not causing significant damage. Much would depend on the level of damage and for how long any missile barrage continued.

Key unknowns:

-- Israeli and Western reaction. Would there be further retaliation? Would weapons used remain conventional?

-- Would Israel strike military targets and civilian infrastructure in Iran, possibly including oil facilities? That would push-up prices and force primary customer China to look for supplies elsewhere.


Iran makes good its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz to traffic, blocking the flow of some 17 million barrels a day of oil, roughly 40 percent of all seaborne oil trade -- but likely inviting swift retaliation from United States forces.

"Iran doesn't even need to be successful in their threat," said Michael Wittner, global head of energy research at Societe Generale. "Even a credible threat or near miss and insurance rates will spike. Then no one's going to send any oil through there for a couple of weeks until somebody's navy can re-establish control."

-- analysts estimate this could push oil prices up toward $150 a barrel. Alternative oil producers such as Russia, Nigeria and Angola might benefit, but rising fuel costs would likely undercut growth everywhere. China, Iran's main export destination, would have to seek supplies elsewhere.

-- Other financial markets would suffer and fall sharply if they believed disruption would be long term.

-- Israeli markets are likely to be affected by the wider frenzy, although probably less than volatile emerging markets.

Key unknowns:

-- how long could Iran maintain its blockade? Military analysts believe its handful of mine-laying ships, helicopters and submarines might quickly be neutralized by the US military.

see also:-Iran unlikely to risk blocking Hormuz


Ultimately, the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran are hard to predict. At worst, it could fuel an upsurge in wider regional violence.

"I worry a great deal about the unintended consequences of a strike," Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said on a recent visit to Israel.

-- a more violent Middle East would put an inherently higher risk premium on oil, pushing up prices and possibly undermining global recovery from the financial crisis. It might also drive consuming nations toward non-Middle Eastern suppliers and alternative technologies.

-- investors would also view Israel as much higher risk, while much higher defense spending would weigh on the economy.

Key unknowns:

-- duration and severity of any conflict. Would the world's wider powers - China, Russia, the United States and European Union in particular - move toward a consensus on the Middle East or would the conflict exacerbate their differences further?

Global Defence

New threads