TEL AVIV — World War III almost broke out at Tel Aviv University last week, though cooler heads prevailed in the end.
Two Incendiary statements by Iran and the Islamic State ISIS brought the sides to the brink of war during a simulation, held at the university, which on Monday, which dealt with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nightmare scenario:
Iran, backed into a corner by the Islamic State, ISIS and armed and ready to use a nuclear bomb.
The simulation game was formulated by the Lab for Policy and Security Simulations (SIMLAB) in conjunction with the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop and the university's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African studies. The game opened with provocative remarks from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who proclaimed, "If ISIS will continue its advances against holy Shi'ite cities, Iran will not hesitate to use every force in its power against ISIS and the areas under its control."
The statement prompted the Islamic StateISIS to call for its supporters in Iraq to attack the "infidels" and for its sympathizers in Jordan and Syria to "take to the streets." The flurry of activity, which included the killing of four Jordanian pilots, prompted world powers to scramble for a solution.
The six-hour simulation, in which had security experts and academics represented 15 different actors, concluded that as far as Israel is concerned, it must be flexible in forming coalitions with its Arab neighbors if it wants to combat the Iranian nuclear threat.
"In conjunction with Israel's military capabilities, Israel will need to be flexible and foster new and unprecedented regional alliances," said SIMLAB head Haim Assa. Lab for Policy and Security Simulations (SIMLAB) head. Dr. Haim Assa, said.
"Israel will have to break free of its prejudices regarding threats from both old and new enemies in the region."
Netanyahu has certainly alluded to this elusive goal in the past. At the UN last year, he said, "With a fresh approach from our neighbors, we can advance peace despite the difficulties … the old template for peace must be updated. It must take into account new realities and new roles and responsibilities for our Arab neighbors."
Achieving such a challenging goal will require a more nuanced approach, said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center.
"We need to know how to use the scalpel and not the hammer," Rabi said during the simulation.
When dealing with "failed states, primordial identities, cyberwar and nuclear weapons," Israel must be "humble" in its approach and look for a common denominator with its Arab neighbors, not a broad-based coalition to bring about peace, he said.
"Don't talk about peace, don't talk about a regional agreement, what we have to look for is a way to cooperate with my enemy's enemy," he explained.
Udi Sommer, Tel Aviv University TAU professor of political science, Udi Sommer, who participated as a member of was part of the US delegation in the simulation, said that there is was already evidence that this unlikely alliance is was subtly taking shape.
"Creating a coalition of moderate Sunni states could counter ISIS as well as other extremist nonstate actors. Further, it may help embolden the weaker links in the chain of moderate state actors. As the simulation demonstrated, Jordan may be one such crucial link," said Sommer.
"Not only is it realistic, the way to move forward is these kind of strategic alliances," he said, pointed out, noting that with Egypt's security cooperation with Israel against Hamas. "Some of these alliances are already in place and the approach of the current American administration is deeply supportive of such coalitions.
"The big question now is if the US and Israel will be able to take the next step to involve additional countries like the UAE and the Saudis, who closely followed the events in Gaza last summer" he added, "and whose interests are in many respects surprisingly aligned with Israel vis-à-vis Iran and extremist elements."
The simulation mirrored the complexity of current Middle East dynamics, and while attaining such a collation is in the interests of many players, its prospects are "unclear."
"The prospects of such a moderate Sunni coalition are unclear, however, as American strategy against extremists in Iraq and Syria becomes increasingly reliant on Iranian fighters or Iranian-backed militiamen," he said.