Decision Workshops

Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons

In April 2012 Cranfield university and Decision Workshops looked at the on-going crisis between Iran, Israel and the USA around the Iranian building of nuclear weapons.  At the time Israel was threatening to attack the Iranian nuclear power and uranium refining facilities, as they suspected they were being used as a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.  


We got together with a cross section of academia, the military and the diplomatic service to examine the crisis in detail, by role playing the sides involved (Iran, Israel, the USA and the Arab states}, using unclassified publicly available data.


The decision workshop aimed to give the participants a full understanding of the situation and to see and understand the dilemmas facing the different sides. This page describes the situation played at the time of writing (April 2012) in confrontation analysis format, At the bottom of the page is a link to a page describing what happened during the workshop.

Description of the 2012 Iranian nuclear crisis in confrontation analysis format.

At the most basic level, Israel, the USA and the Arabs are saying that Iran should not build nuclear weapons, and Iran is also SAYING that it is not building nuclear weapons.


Confrontation analysis looks at the sides declared positions on the situation (what people are saying they will do). In terms of declared positions, all the sides are in agreement, nobody wants Iran to build nuclear weapons.  The problem comes that Israel, the USA and the Arabs all believe that Iran is lying, They therefore DISTRUST the Iranian position.  All the rest of the crisis follows from this single decision. We represent the decision in this format:

Note that other parties not trusting Iran gives Iran a dilemma as well as them.  The other parties have openly declared their distrust in Iran, and so Iran must work towards making the other parties believe it - hence Iran's dilemma.  Note that Iran has this dilemma whether or not it is actually trying to make nuclear weapons.


All further actions, everything else happening in the crisis, is an attempt to eliminate these dilemmas.

Iran's position:

Iran’s position is that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty it is entitled to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.  This is what it is doing.  The treaty allows for the enrichment of uranium up to 20%.  Iran is therefore enriching uranium up to 19.75%, thus staying within the letter of the law, claiming it will use this for medical and research purposes.  This annoys Israel the USA and the Arabs, as they claim that enrichment to this level is not needed for the nuclear power.  They are requesting that Iran cease enrichment.   The Arab countries would also like Iran to become nuclear free, and abandon its nuclear power ambitions. So the table looks like this:

USA's confrontation

Note that the USA is saying that the economic sanctions are only being used as a threat if Iran does not comply with its wishes.  It is saying that it does not want to apply sanctions but is forced to by Iran's intransience. It is also worried that Iran is not allowing full inspection of the nuclear sites (in particular the site of Parchin).  The US's problem is that its threat is not adequate to shift Iran's position. I.e. Iran prefers the future position to the USA's position.  To progress the US must either 1) make its position better or 2) make the future worse so that Iran prefers the USA's position to the future.


Israel and the Arab states do not have official positions on this (even if they secretly like the sanctions, the confrontation analysis shows only the declared positions).

Suspicious of the Iranian enrichment programme, the USA has asked for Iran to cease enrichment and to allow a full inspection of the Iranian nuclear sites.  If Iran did these things then the USA could remove it's doubt as it if Iran was producing nuclear weapons (it could trust that it was not). To encourage this to happen, the USA has imposed economic sanctions on Iraq.  This produces the options table below:

Israel's confrontation

Israel is demanding a higher standard of proof than the USA is from Iran.  It is demanding that Iran:


1) Cease enriching uranium

2) Dismantle its existing centrifuges

3) Raise the new Fordo uranium refinement facilities to the ground


Its position (what it is communicating with Iran) is that if this does not happen then it will destroy Iran's nuclear program with an airstrike.


Iran's attitude to this is defiance.  It is claiming that the airstrike will not be effective, and is minimising Israel's threat saying that it will not be able to achieve its objectives.  Hence Iran doubts Israel will destroy the Iranian nuclear capability. This doubt gives Israel the dilemma... How can it make its threat believable?


Note that a lot of Iran's counter to the threat of an airstrike is to minimise the effect of it. Although it does not want an air strike as such, its communication is attempting to minimise the effect of the airstrike, for example by pointing out the positive effect it may have in uniting the country and gathering support in the Arab world. Stopping the airstrike is not a dilemma for Iran. The dilemma has been eliminated by Iran saying it is prepared to weather the storm, and thus placing a dash in its position.


Similarly to the situation with the USA, Iran prefers the Future scenario to Israel's. (Remember it doubts that Israel will destroy its nuclear capability).


The single table below shows the situation at the time of the workshop in confrontation analysis format:  Note that the Arabs are not at the moment technically in confrontation with Iran, as Iran has no dilemmas on cards they own.  The Arabs do, however, suffer dilemmas that they need to work to eliminate.


Combining all the confrontations into a single options table gives us the following: -

Using this as a background and a language the four sides preformed a role play attempting to eliminate their dilemmas. They did this by performing changes to the option table above.  The link below shows the results.

DW in Progress Introtocards Iran position IsraelConfrontation USA position allConfrontation Home Results Iran and Israel