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What if Iran's hardline leadership emerges from the current confrontations at home strengthened and emboldened? If so, the nuclear issue will be back with a vengeance. And three recent war games focused on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue suggest that the prospects for halting the regime's progress toward nuclear weapons are not good.
In December 2009, experts at Harvard University, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institution conducted three separate war games to analyze various Iranian nuclear scenarios.
Harvard war game outcomes:
* The United States could not get any meaningful support for sanctions.
* Russia and China -- both of which will be key players if sanctions are to work -- conducted secret negotiations with Iran.
* The U.S.-Israeli relationship deteriorated dramatically during the game, leading to a deep diplomatic crisis.
* Iran saw itself in a strong position and played accordingly.
* Iran emerged better off at the end of the game than it had been at the beginning. By December 2010, it had doubled its supply of low-enriched uranium and was proceeding to weaponization.
According to one participant, Iran "never felt seriously threatened" and could "win" the game easily. Indeed, most observers would probably characterize the outcome as a win for Iran and a defeat for the United States and Israel.
The Tel Aviv war game. Organized by the Institute for National Security Studies, the Tel Aviv simulation explored U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations and potential Israeli responses. Reported results included:
* Iran assumed a strong position in the game based on a clear objective: obtaining nuclear weapons.
* Israel and the United States lacked clear goals and strategies for dealing with Iran's program.
* The Iranians saw the United States as weak and indecisive but viewed their own position as strong.
* Israel was perceived as being unhelpful to the United States.
* At game's end, Iran continued its nuclear program, neither persuaded nor deterred.
The Brookings war game. Conducted at the institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C., this game explored how Israel, Iran, and the United States might respond to an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Reported results included:
* The United States was unhappy with Israel over the attack.
* The United States tried to talk tough with Iran but also sought direct negotiations.
* The United States attempted to stay out of the conflict.
* The U.S. response was limited and defensive.
* Iran interpreted U.S. behavior as weak and was emboldened by this perception.
Importance of Multiple Games
Based on available information, the games seemed to be well done -- they added to the insights obtained through standard analytical methods, and more such games would appear to be in order. Any one of them would have been worthwhile on their own, but taken together they are even more valuable. Using similar issues and agents, they yielded some of the same negative outcomes:
* The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
* Sanctions did not seem to work.
* The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
* U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
* Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.