Tuesday, January 03, 2006

War Plans

The U.S. is planning a military strike against Iran, according to an article that appeared in Sunday's Jerusalem Post. The Post article was apparently based on a German newspaper account, which (in turn) relied on reports from other media sources. Based on the second-hand nature of the information, the Post report seems dubious, at best.

In fairness, the paper is right about one thing. The U.S. military has plans on the books for military operations against Iran. And China. And North Korea, and just about every other potential adversary you can imagine. It's lesson one of military planning: you don't wait until the proverbial "balloon goes up" to start preparations for an operation. The logistics, intelligence, political, diplomatic and operational requirements for major operations often require years of planning and preparation. That's why the U.S. has maintained contingency plans for a variety of threat countries for decades, updating the plans on a regular basis. Heck, we even had a plan for invading Canada at one time. Perhaps Matt Parker and Trey Stone were on to something, afterall.

The article suggests that U.S. officials have been making the rounds in Turkey and the Persian Gulf, requesting basing rights for aircraft that would (presumably) be used in a strike against Iran. Normally, that would suggest that planning had reached a somewhat advanced stage, but (in this case) it ignores a glaring fact: the U.S. currently controls a number of airfields in Iraq that already support fighter operations, and they are located much closer to Iran that runways in Turkey, Oman, or other regions. There is no mention of using Iraqi airfields in the Post account, and their availability would decrease--rather than increase--reliance on other airfields in the region.

As a final, discrediting note, the German report cites a New Yorker article from early 2005, written by Seymour Hersh. In his article, Mr. Hersh presents tries to make the case that the U.S. is preparing a strike on Iran because of "incursions" by American forces into that country, supposedly to mark targets. Hersh appeared to be referring to occasional intrusions by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into Iranian airspace.

I hate to burst Hersh's conspiracy bubble, but the referenced UAV intrusions were accidental--incidents where the drones temporarily lost their guidance signals and strayed into Iranian airspace. Most of the incursions were quite shallow and (most importantly) the occurred in areas well removed from Iran's nuclear facilities, the likely targets for any U.S. military attack. And finally (contrary to Hersh's assertions), we have far more effective methods for monitoring potential targets that trying to sneak a Predator past the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, or the new complex at Khondab. But that doesn't support the storyline, so those facts are conveninently ignored.

The Post article appears to put a new slight on the Iran nuclear crisis, suggesting that there may be other option on the table, beyond the current talks between Tehran and Moscow. Obviously, the military option cannot be discounted, particularly if Iran continues its weapons development efforts. But, contrary to the Post account, there is nothing to indicate that the military operations are moving to the top of the options list.

As we've noted before, airstrikes against Iran's nuclear sites are fraught with potential problems, with only modest guarantees for success. Current indicators suggest that Washington is committed to the diplomatic track, at least for now. While military strikes may become necessary at some point, there is little reason to believe that long-standing operational plans (coupled with recent, high-level visits by U.S. officials) represent a substantial advance in planning process and make the military option more likely.

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