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US assesses repercussions of Israeli attack on Iran

March 20, 2012 15:29 IST

An Israeli attack on Iran would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead. With an Israeli attack on Iran within the next year appearing to be a possibility to American officials, the US has undertaken a "classified war simulation" to assess the real world repercussions of such an attack and America's preparedness to deal with the conflict, New York Times reported.

"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," New York Times report quoted American officials as saying. The two-week war game, known as the 'Internal Look', played out a scenario in which the US found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, officials with knowledge of the exercise said in the report.

The war game then plays out a scenario in which the US retaliates by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. While the war game was not designed as a rehearsal for American military action, it has raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran. Officials at the White House and Pentagon have expressed concern that the consequences of any Israeli attack could prove perilous for the United States.

"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," the report added. 

In the war simulation, the initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear programme by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear programme by more than an additional two years. The exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs in the Pentagon, the Central Command headquarters in Florida and in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of an Israeli strike. "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.

General James Mattis, commander of the US forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, told aides at the conclusion of the exercise earlier this month that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there. Under the chain of events in the war game, Iran believed that Israel and the US 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, the report added. Internal Look is considered to be one of the US 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. It has been previously used to prepare for various wars in the Middle East, including the invasion of Iraq.

Experts have said that Iran may want to avoid being attacked by the US' superior forces and so it might use proxies to set off car bombs across leading world capitals or funnel high explosives to insurgents in Afghanistan to attack American and NATO troops. "The last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory. Thus, ...Iran would not directly strike American military targets, whether warships in the Persian Gulf or bases in the region," military officials said.

Yoshita Singh in New York
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