From the Times of London (behind paywall):
Israel has begun thinking the unthinkable: that it will have to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran within a year.
In documents seen by The Times, Israeli officials have begun preparing scenarios for the day after a nuclear weapons test. The move is a tacit recognition that Israel is backing away from its long-held position that it would do everything in its power — including mounting a military strike — to stop Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities.
Details of the war game, which was enacted by former ambassadors, intelligence officials and ex-military chiefs, emerged as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirmed yesterday that Iran has begun producing enriched uranium in an underground bunker designed to withstand airstrikes.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said that it was monitoring the work at the Fordow facility, which is concealed in a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
The simulation exercise was conducted in Tel Aviv last week by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a think-tank. Its conclusions suggest that a nuclear test would radically shift the whole power balance of the Middle East. The Israeli specialists assumed that the following would occur:
All the predictions are based on current international policies.
- The US would try to restrain Israel from military retaliation and propose a formal defence pact, including possibly inviting the Jewish state to join Nato;
- Russia would propose a defence pact with the United States in an effort to stop nuclear proliferation in the Middle East;
- Saudi Arabia, not content with US nuclear guarantees, would develop its own nuclear arms programme;
- Egypt would push for military action against Iran while Turkey would be likely to avoid a showdown with Tehran. If Israel were to become a member of Nato, Turkey would withdraw from the organisation.
The specialists — including a former head of Israel’s National Security Council, two former members of the Prime Minister’s Office, a former ambassador and others with close ties to Israeli military intelligence — believe that a nuclear test in January 2013 would be presaged by a series of provacative demands from Tehran. They include an Iranian call for its border with Iraq to be redrawn; calls for sovereignty over Bahrain and low-level actions against the vessels of the US Fifth Fleet in the Gulf.
The specialists made clear that although Israel would come under pressure to abandon any military plans against Iran, it would keep this option on the table.
“The Israeli military option is likely to be a significant lever, if not toward Iran, then toward some of the main players,” said the minutes of the war game seen by The Times. “The simulation showed that this option, or the threat of using it, would also be relevant following an Iranian nuclear test,” it added.
“The simulation showed that Iran will not forgo nuclear weapons, but will attempt to use them to reach an agreement with the major powers that will improve its position.”
In their report, the Israeli authors, INSS fellows Yoel Guzansky and Yonatan Lerner, wrote: “Iran is closer than ever to the juncture at which its leaders will need to decide whether to stay in a relatively comfortable position on the verge of nuclear capability or, alternatively, to break through to the bomb. Iran has an interest in postponing the decision whether to cross the threshold to a later stage. Nevertheless, a series of regional and international developments is likely to cause Iran to decide to accelerate its nuclear development and to break through toward nuclear weapons.”
While Israeli officials have long maintained their position that the Jewish state could not live with a nuclear Iran, over the past year several high-ranking Israeli officials have come forward and questioned whether the Jewish state would not be forced to accept Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capabilities.
In June last year, Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, publicly voiced his doubts concerning an Israeli strike on Iran, suggesting that it would engulf the region in war. Last month he added that a nuclear Iran “did not necessarily threaten Israel”.
Both statements were condemned by the Israeli Government, which said it was inappropriate and unhelpful for him to suggest that Israel would not do everything possible to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
The scenario laid out by the INSS suggests that the possibility that Israel has to “live with it” might become a reality.
Unlike other think-tanks, the INSS enjoys a particularly close relationship with the top echelons in Israel. It is led by the former head of Israeli military intelligence, and most of its fellows have held official positions within the defence and political establishment.
This week’s report from the war game has been sent to Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.
Participants included Giora Eiland, former head of national security, Alon Liel, the former Israeli Chargé d’Affaires to Turkey, and Yehuda Ben Meir, the former Knesset member.