NY Times Leak: “Not the Subtlest Way of Warning Israel”

US Navy 5th Fleet transits the Straits of Hormuz, March 10, 2012

When intelligence officials anonymously leak info to the press, you always have to ask yourself, What’s the motive?

Case in point: A war simulation run by the Pentagon predicts an Israeli strike on Iran will lead to wider war. The results were “leaked” to the NY Times:

But the game has raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran, the officials said . . .

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.

Responding to the leak, Brett Stephens (WSJ, click via Google News) raises the obvious point:

On Monday, the Times published the (leaked) results of a “classified war game” in which an Israeli strike on Iran leaves “hundreds of American dead,” perhaps through an attack on a Navy warship. That isn’t exactly the subtlest way of warning Israel that, should they strike Iran, they will do so forewarned that American blood will be on their hands, never mind that it’s the Iranians who would be doing the killing.

Is this outcome likely? Maybe, though it assumes a level of Iranian irrationality—responding to an Israeli attack by bringing the U.S. into the conflict—that top U.S. officials don’t otherwise attribute to Iran’s leaders. But the deeper problem with this leak is that an intelligence product is being used as a political tool.

For Washington insiders, the NY Times is the paper of choice for anonymous leaks and deniable trial balloons. Remember the diplomatic brouhaha over a reinterpretation of the Bush-Sharon understandings? That was also an NYT special.

(Image via US Navy/John Grandin)