5 Nov 2012

Nuclear war games: What if Israel attacks Iran?

Documentary maker David Patrikarakos, one of the producers of tonight’s Dispatches on #NuclearWarGames, considers the foreign policy question becoming more urgent by the day.

What would happen if Israel attacks Iran? (Picture C4/Alison Jackson)

The confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme has invaded US domestic politics, with both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney expounding at length on how they would solve the Iran “issue”.

Now it appears that Britain is getting involved as it considers stationing warplanes in the Persian gulf as the Iranian nuclear crisis continues amid rising tension in the region.

I wanted to find out more, so a few weeks ago I caught a flight to Israel with the film director, Kevin Sim, to watch an Israeli think tank, the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, war game an attack on Iran. The premise was simple: members of the think tank – a collection of former government and military officials – split off into groups playing the various sides that would affect the course of any such attack I real life: Israel, Iran, the US, Hezbollah, various Arab States, Russia and the UN.

I caught a flight to Israel to watch a war game attack on Iran. David Patrikarakos

The game began when players were told that just after midnight on 9 November (in game time) three waves of Israeli planes had struck Iran’s nuclear facilities, causing extensive damage. It was an act that rocked the world. It also meant that Iran was forced to respond, which it did, firing missiles of its own at Israel, to really get the game going.

What happened? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out. Suffice to say that the game was as dramatic as you would expect – all the players, from the US to Russia to the UN were dragged into the mix, illustrating just how global the Iranian nuclear crisis truly is. And in the end… well, things didn’t turn out too badly at all for Israel.

The British government has urged Israel to exercise restraint over Iran, pointing out that sanctions are having a crippling effect on the Iranian economy – with the fall-out from the punitive measures making the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad increasingly unpopular and creating frictions in the ruling hierachy.

The question is: will the Israelis listen? If the results of the war game are anything to go by, the Israelis may believe a strike is the best option. If that does happen, then the world may yet find itself involved in another Middle East war.

Dispatches: Nuclear War Games, Monday 8pm on Channel 4.