Israel and Iran play Chess and Checkers.

On the eve of the elections to Israel’s 20th Knesset on 17th March next week, the usual suspects are accusing each other of the usual negligence and offer the usual promises if they were to be elected. No exception is the security of the State of Israel. The usual suspects are not making specific promises such as “if I am elected I will destroy Iranian nuclear intentions” but they are accusing each other of not having done enough in the decades since having identified the threat.

The nature of Israeli politics is a coalition government, so over the last few decades there are few senior leaders from any of the parties who have not previously held a cabinet position. It is a like a chess board, all the players are equally valuable in securing a victory or falling into defeat. Hence collectively no senior member of any Israeli political party standing for election next week can be excused from incompetence or be blamed for not have spoken out.

While they vie for election Iran is also playing Chess, one of the greatest games associated with war. Speculations abound about the exact origins of Chess, where one is Persia known today as Iran. One move to victory in Chess is Checkmate, or in Persian Shah-Mat, the Shah or King is Dead. Indeed Chess is also known in Hebrew as Shah-Mat.

Let me detail some moves of the nuclear capability Chess game where Iran is playing as Black and the international community is playing as White. One move. White Castle (Netanyahu) forward met by Black Castle (Rouhani): A stalemate !

The Black King (Ayatollah) feels secure on this stalemate. The White King (Obama) also feels secure on this stalemate. While the stalemate ensues both are engaged in playing another game – Checkers-Draughts. In the board game there are diagonal moves and mandatory captures until the player without pieces or cannot move loses the game.

Checkers Black (Iran) is aiming to increase its regional influence in support of Shia aligned forces fighting in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria and in fermenting strife in Gaza, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and others. They can do so because Checkers White is not one entity. The international community including Israel and the United States don’t wish to support the Sunni forces that are fighting the Iranian sponsored forces be they in government or rebel forces because they are radical and/or terrorist or because their regime is despotic.

So while the Checkers-Draughts game is played out on the ground with daily slaughter the Chess game remains in the negotiating board-room. Time is crucial with a few weeks left to reach a framework for an agreement. The White King (Obama) and his P5+1 Knights and European Union Horses are apparently not poignant. This forced a White Castle (Netanyahu) move. So White King and White Castle undertook the Castling move. This was in effect the move by which The White Castle (Netanyahu) moved into the position of the White King (Obama) and addressed the Court (The Congress) of the White King (Obama).

Another effect of the Castling move was to put the White Castle (Netanyahu) in a position to directly challenge the Black King (Ayatollah) which he did. A Castle is unique in being able to project power over the heads of other pieces while they are still in place on the board. However the challenge is not enough for victory – for  Checkmate (Persian Shah-Mat).

A further suggested move for the White Castle (Israel) is to remove the Black Pawn (Iranian President Rouhani) from being in front of the Black King (Ayatollah). This will reveal the true nature of the radicalism that is hiding behind the façade of western-style Iranian politicians and diplomats. It is clear that as a former nuclear negotiator Iranian President Rouhani knows how to say the right words but has yet to take the appropriate steps. In his first press conference after taking office in August 2013 he stated “ I will work to win back the trust of world powers and ease international sanctions.” However he also insisted that Iran’s uranium enrichment activities would not be suspended.

Iran must make a choice. One option is to disarm by closing down the enrichment facilities and inter-continental ballistic missile program. This will demonstrate that Iran truly doesn’t seek military nuclear capability. This will gain trust and then the rest will full into place. The international community will work with Iran to ensure that Sunni radicalism can be overcome and stability can be brought to Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria with Shia influence. A true strategist would know that this option is a prudent Chess decision.

The other option is to continue to challenge the norms and the wishes of the international community. This will result in an emergent Sunni Islamic State on Iran’s borders constantly threatening it, and the international community imposing stricter sanctions on Iran while also contemplating or effecting military strikes on Iranian targets. A true strategist would know that if Iran selected this option it would be a suicide Checkers-Draughts move for itself.


About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.