The outcome was not comforting.
The narrative played out by the simulation had Iran retaliating against the US, pummeling a Navy warship with missiles, thereby killing 200 Americans on board. This, in turn, drew in the US, which bombed Iranian nuclear facilities in response.
So, why attack the US if it was Israel that carried out the initial strike?
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.
Had I not read only a couple of paragraphs before that "The exercise was designed specifically to test internal military communications and coordination among battle staffs," I would have wondered why CENTCOM included an Iranian assault against a US warship in its narrative. After all,
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. ... 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.
It seems to me that these experts and specialists are probably right. Tehran has shown time and time again that regime preservation is of the utmost concern and, toward this end, has tended to be a prudent and rational actor. The Islamic Republic likely would not have lasted for over three decades otherwise. Unfortunately, though, if Israel does attack Iran, the CENTCOM exercise might turn out to be a lot closer to reality than one would hope. That's because no matter how much the leadership in Tehran wants to keep the US at arm’s length, and no matter how rational Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be, there's always the very real possibility of some rogue commander deciding to take matters into his own hands.
Perhaps that's what happened last October, when the US arrested Manssor Arbabsiar, an American-Iranian who allegedly tried to hire a member of the Zetas drug cartel (really an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent) to kill Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir for $1.5 million. Many analysts were skeptical that this was a bona fide plot sanctioned by the upper echelons of the Iranian government. Bob Baer, a former CIA agent, put it this way:
This stinks to holy hell. The Quds force are very good. They don't sit down with people they don't know and make a plot. They use proxies and they are professional about it. This is totally uncharacteristic of them.
Arbabsiar's alleged plan was to blow up al-Jubeir at a restaurant he frequented, which surely would have resulted in the deaths of many others, maybe even US senators ("no big deal," was Arbabsiar's alleged response when the undercover DEA agentbrought this fact to his attention). It's not difficult to imagine what might have happened had this plot managed to slip under the intelligence community's radar and kill and wound tens, maybe hundreds of Americans. The repercussions would likely have been immense. There's little doubt that the American public would have clamored for some sort of military reprisal, not merely harsher sanctions. And if, as Bob Baer and others believe, the Iranian government wasn't behind the plot after all, Tehran might have responded in kind to what it would have perceived as unprovoked aggression by the United States. Who knows where that might have led. But it all would have been precipitated by some rogue individual or group, effectively rendering the official policy of Iran and its supreme leader irrelevant.
So while it's important to try to understand the inner workings of the Iranian regime and its patterns of decision making, when it comes to avoiding war, all such analyses may turn out to be for naught if, for instance, an overzealous Revolutionary Guards commander decides the USS John C. Stennis should be at the bottom of the Gulf. Let's hope not.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist