The U.K. Telegraph had an interesting article over the weekend, detailing British military planning for potential strikes against Iran.
According to the Telegraph, British officials believe that a U.S.-led strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is "inevitable" if Tehran fails to compy with a United Nations demand that it halt uranium enrichment activities. So far, Iran has remained defiant, vowing to continue its nuclear program. The UN is supposed to receive a status report from the IAEA within 30 days, gauging Iran's level of "compliance" with the security council's mandate.
The paper claims that the U.K. government is already involved in "contigency planning" for a potential operation, but that may be incorrect. Contingency plans for potential adversaries (including Iran) are drawn up far in advance; any planning at this point would largely be a matter of fine-tuning, such as adjusting force levels or adding assets that might be needed to support a strike against Iran. The Telegraph claims that British military forces would play only a limited role in operations against Iran.
As part of this "planning" process, senior British defense officials are scheduled to meet today, to discuss the potential ramifications of a coalition air campaign against Iran. The Brits are concerned that a strike into Iran could produce a backlash in Shia-dominated southern Iraq, where there is a sizeable U.K. military presence.
Despite the article's "urgent" tone, the Telegraph admits that an attack against Iran is not imminent, saying that the strike could happen this year, maybe next year. That's why it's important not to read too much into this report. Contingency planning is a normal part of military operations; plans are routintely reviewed, modified and updated, based on changes in enemy force deployments, geopolitical considerations, and our own military capabilities. With Tehran remaining defiant on the nuclear issue, there is an increased chance for U.S.-led (or Israeli) strikes to eliminate Iran's weapons-making potential. Against that backdrop, it's prudent to remain prepared, and review all possible options and consequences. That sounds like what's going on in the British MOD right now.
A British source told the paper that some defense officials consider a strike against Iran to be "inevitable." That may be true, but it's also true that no one (so far) has shown a willingness to pull the trigger. If the Iraq experience is any key, we likely face more rounds of diplomacy before we reach the threshhold for conflict. Consequently, the current planning in the U.K. is likely not the last stop before war, but rather, a reflection of continuing planning and preparation--just in case the military option gets the green light.
A final note: at one point in the article, the Telegraph raises the possibility of a U.S.-Israeli strike against Iran. While Washington and Tel Aviv share a desire to see Iran's nuclear program end, the prospect of a combined operation is simply a non-starter. Joining the Israelis--even for a single raid--would wreak havoc in our relations with Muslim countries, particularly the moderate states we court for assistance in the War on Terror. If the Israelis go after Iran, it will be an independent operation, although the U.S. could conveniently cast a blind eye as the IAF heads east. Likewise, if the U.S. launches an attack, it will be supported by the Aussies, Brits and (perhaps) a few other European allies. The IAF will not be a part of that equation, by design.