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Prisoner's Dilemma

Reader comment on item: Panetta Predicts an Israeli Strike on Iran
in response to reader comment: The Timing For Israel is Critical - Yet the Israeli's Will Not Control It.

Submitted by Michel C. Zala (Switzerland), Feb 17, 2012 at 14:09

I have to humbly disagree with your assessment insofar, as the situation in the region manifests itself in some form of a Prisoner's Dilemma, which is why there is a mechanism in place, where no individual or government can really manoeuver anymore, but actions follow a causal chain, an automatism of brutal logic. In political science we call such a Crisis Mechanism.

Picture the following scenario:

2 parties are at war. The war is conducted with hand guns. One party (ISR) has grenade launchers in reserve, but is not interested in any escalation, as a large amount of victims could destabilize the situation and pull in neighboring gangs or even the police into the conflict and turn the public opinion against them. So they keep the war localized, walled in, on a low level, which secures their own territory. The treat of their grenade launchers in reserve alone prevents other neighboring gangs to engaging openly and on a broad scale. Thus ISR conducts a defensive war without incurring too much risk for greater damage.

Now the paradigm shifts. The other side (Iran and proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah)) are working on getting their own grenade launchers. A dilemma presents itself :

1. Strike, before the other side has the weapons.

Safest choice for their own people. High risk of massive public opinon backlash, risk of broad escalation throughout the region. Risk of being branded "aggressor". Risk of losing support of friends (America)

2. Strike, before the other side uses their weapons

Hard to navigate the tight window of time. Medium Risk of being hit and destroyed, as they cannot absorb even one strike. High risk of still being branded "Aggressor". Pretty much same risks as above, while incurring higher risk of destruction.

3. Strike, after the other side used their weapons.

Highest risk of destruction, minimum risk of being branded as guilty party. The other party will be condemned and the UN will issue damning resolutions, but no real consequences for the other party, such as retaliation by friends. A no-win proposition for ISR. the world (UN) would never accept a nuclear retaliation against IRAN, while ISR will be irreversibly destroyed and Iran could absorb, due to strategic depth, several nuclear hits from the immediate counterstrike.

4. Not strike and hope for the best (negotiations, sanctions)

Negotiations and sanctions for decades now have proven to be ineffective, if not outright counter-productive. Iran Charta, Hamas, Hezbollah and a wide majority of all muslims thorughout the region do not accept ISRs right to exist. The direct involved parties have made their ambitions and goals very clear - the destruction of the jewish state and the whole of Palestine to be a muslim state. At present no truce, no armistice, but an ongoing (undeclared) war with thousands of rockets raining down on ISR every year.
Popular opinion in the West already against ISR. America (under Obama) ambivalent at best and the people fatigued by war and unwilling to engage in yet another. No Holocaust declaration, no shield or NATO membership as deterrent. Islamist trends in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan with deteriorating relationships to ISR throughout the region already. America already marginalized in Iraq and withdrawn. China and Russia successfully blocking any far-reaching action against Syria, have done and will do the same with regard to Iran.

Considering the role and duty of the ISR government to protect its people and safeguard its territory, the last scenario, if adopted, must be pragmatically considered by the ISR people as well as any objective observer as criminally negligent. The current political landscape in the region as well as World considered, one is hard pressed to find even a few arguments to support this highest risk scenario. If Iran will not acknowledge ISRs right to exist now, but pledged on many occasions that it would do anything to wipe it off the map, what could any objective observer possibly deduct, after Iran acquires nukes and effectively has the means to destroy the hated jewish state? In any criminal investigation, the perpetrator should have motive, means and opportunity. So far, the Iranians lacked the means. Once they have all of the prerequisites for this "crime", how could anyone possibly doubt, that these fanatics would ever follow through on their own promises?

In conclusion, I feel that, assuming the role of the ISR decision makers for a moment, it boils down to scenarios 1 and 2. Since ISR could not possibly absorb even one nuclear explosion, quite actually I would have to select option 1, even if that means that ISR would be branded the greatest criminal of all times.

The sad conclusion of the lesson is, that ISR may be forced to commit a terrible crime against humanity in order to survive, which is why they will wait to the very last possible moment.

There is one slither of hope

The terrible mechanism can be stopped, if Iran walks away from its nuclear ambitions. In fact, the future of the entire region, the lives of millions of people lay in the hands of the Iranian Ayatollahs. They would not even have to abandon their civil nuclear intentions, as the West was and is willing to support (and control) such efforts to safeguard the peace. But if they in their stubborness and shortsightedness decide to pursue their military ambitions, that in itself must be considered as a declaration of war. If the party who has openly declared to destroy me, is currently engaged in (terror) actions against me, has made their intentions and goals fully clear to me and the world, now gets the ultimate weapon, that in itself I must consider as an unacceptable threat. Scenario 4 is about as naive, as to assume that, if the other party, who has so far used revolvers against me, would for some reasons unknown abstain from using a grenade launcher?

It is the Iranians who will determine the outcome. It is clearly in their hands. No matter, if ISR will be forced to shoot the first bullet, the responsibility for the conflict will squarely lay on the shoulders of the Iranians.

Who is guilty - The lion who bites the person or the person(s) who corner the animal into an impossible situation? Root cause and ignition. ISR may well start the war, but it is Iran which will have caused it.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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