Contingency plans are one of the most useful tools available for civilian and military leaders. They are also one of the least understood components of the military staff process. It is an all-too-common perception that the very presence of a plan that calls for military action becomes in effect a self fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if a plan exists to attack a country, then proponent naturally gather to implement that plan. In reality nothing can be further from the truth.
A good leader always demands options from his staff. He may be like Henry Kissinger who always insisted on three options varying from highly aggressive to passive. He invariably selected the one in between but insisted on seeing options nevertheless. The decision maker must have options. If the only proffered tool in his kit is a hammer, then the world begins to resemble a nail. But by having a plan for every contingency and the knowledge of resources necessary to carry out a particular plan allows a leader to make the ultimate decision based on solid information, not last-minute guesswork.
Every planner realizes that the work is hypothetical. There always will be many more unused plans than there are military operations. To turn a plan into an operation requires a rare confluence of contingencies that most military officers hope never occurs. So shelves in headquarters around the world are filled with plans that are unlikely ever to be implemented but whose very presence reassures leaders and operators alike. If the decision is ever made then the appropriate plan can be dusted off, updated, and activated. This is exactly what is taking place in the United States and Israel at the moment concerning Iran and its growing nuclear threat. All hope that diplomatic measures will succeed in achieving national objectives, but no rational leader is willing to place blind faith in them.
All are aware of the history of Iranian perfidy. Iran's position in President Bush's Axis of Evil is fully justified by Iranian actions. The aberrant mullah leadership is responsible for funneling untold millions of dollars; mostly derived from oil sales revenues; into the hands of international terrorists. The infamous Hezbollah organization, based in Lebanon with representatives in Damascus and Teheran, relies heavily on Iranian funding along with assistance in kind from Syria. Hezbollah has attacked Israel through conventional and terrorist activity unrelentingly for years. It has proven intransigent and unapologetic for attacks against innocent civilians that have accounted for thousands of Israeli deaths.
In past actions Hezbollah has shown itself willing to use any and all weapons available. This is an additional worry for those who fear a nuclear Iran, because such a weapon in the hands of ruthless terrorists could wreak inconceivable losses upon Israel and America. Hezbollah leaders have no compunction about identifying America as an enemy equal to or greater than Israel. This is in consonance with the philosophy of the Iranian mullah leaders who speak of America as the Great Satan and Israel as the Lesser Satan. Chants of "Death to America"; alternate with calls for "Death to Israel"; during organized demonstrations in Teheran and Beirut.
At a tactical level Israeli planners constantly keep their eyes on Hezbollah because they may be called on to repel an attack on a settlement, counter-attack rocket launching sites, or call in air strikes against threatening formations. There are also concerns, expressed by retired US Major General Paul Vallely returning from a recent trip to the Israeli side of the Lebanese border, that the terror group may possess poison gas in the form of munitions evacuated out of Iraq through Syria and into the Bekka Valley. Confirmation of the presence of such weapons would be an immediate call for action. Israeli planners are aware of the need to prepare plans against these contingencies. They also know that necessary as it is, such preparation is akin to placing a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. As long as Iran continues to support Hezbollah as it has done in the past, the Israeli army can only hold the line, never conquer the real threat.
Such a reality check adds to the reason America and Israel advanced strike planning is underway directed against both Iranian regime and nuclear manufacturing targets. A number of targets are selected, analyzed, and assigned strike packages; designed to eliminate them or degrade them as a threat. Targets such as intelligence headquarters, leadership offices, nuclear storage and research facilities, and missile facilities are a first priority. Weapons systems are assigned to attack each target. It might be cruise missiles, long-range stealth bombers, or tactical fighter-bombers.
Some targets require a combination. Given the dug-in nature of many of the targets, specially designed munitions would be assigned to destroy the target if possible, and if not, to degrade it or set it back to the point that it no longer poses an immediate threat. The Iranians learned from the Israeli strike against Iraq's nuclear facility at Ossirik in 1981, and, drawing on experience from their North Korean friends, are learning how to dig facilities deep into rock and camouflage them. There are no easy targets.
Little enthusiasm exists on either side of the Atlantic for actual implementation of these contingency plans directed against Iran. To strike Iran militarily risks failing to destroy or degrade the threat sufficiently thus provoking a successful retaliatory strike against friendly targets.
Perhaps such strikes might generate a spike of internal nationalism even among those who favor regime change and democracy, thereby delaying what would be the most desirable outcome: an internal democratic revolt. Nevertheless, such decisions are above the pay grade of the military and are properly elevated to civilian leadership. In order to perform their mission and support that leadership, the planners in both Israel and America have almost completed preparation. They now wait for an order to execute that all hope will not be necessary.