The U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East is augmenting its Iran war-planning and intelligence analysis staff at a time when navy minesweepers are going to the Persian Gulf and there is an increase in other naval defenses. The U.S. has also quietly deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Gulf for possible conflict with Iran.
So while all eyes in this stand-off might be focused on Iran’s nuclear pursuits and Iranian actions, there are American defensive measures as well, some open and some not so open, that also provide stimuli. Each move and counter-move can intrinsically escalate tensions; so much so that that the nation’s top military officer is speaking openly about Iranian misjudgments of either American intentions or the purpose of American defensive preparations.
In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran could suffer the consequences of misjudgment. “There are some things that we know they will respond to,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey was mostly warning that Iraq “could get it wrong and suffer the consequences,” as he said, describing U.S. (and Israeli) will to act if it defies the international community. But rationality is obviously on Dempsey’s mind.
I’ve been writing for at least five years about U.S. war preparations for Iran, and in 2006, I wrote that “on the surface, Iran controls the two basic triggers that could set off U.S. military action.” Those then were acquisition of nuclear capability in defiance of the international community and lashing out militarily at the United States or its allies, or closing the Strait of Hormuz to international oil traffic. Not much has changed in five years and it’s always useful to remind ourselves that Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear capability has been imminent for too long to qualify any longer as imminent.
But five years ago, the United States was overwhelmed by a war in Iraq and most of the writing about an Iran war focused on the Bush administration and its irrationality. Five years later, Bush is gone and Iraq is no longer a resource-sucking military albatross for the United States.
Does that mean then that war is more likely today – this week, this month, in the next six months – than before? Well one thing is clear: Iran still holds most of the cards.
So when I hear that CENTCOM’s Joint Intelligence Center has stood up an Iran Integrative Assessments Team, and that the planning staff in Florida is redoubling efforts to assess Iranian strategy and military capabilities, I’ve got to ask myself if there’s something I’m missing, something that’s going on behind the scenes that makes this time anything other than contingency planning as usual.
Though both the United States and Israel have the ability, with conventional, nuclear, or cyber weapons to mount a tactical surprise attack upon Iran – and that’s why it’s easy for so many to endlessly speculate about attacking that (or any other) country — at least for the United States, there is a certain cycle of preparations, a certain time scale of preparations, that are really necessary. It even took the United States almost a month to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda after 9/11 and a lot of the reasons had nothing to do with Afghanistan’s geographic isolation or the absence of a plan. The reality of war was the need to get everything prepared.
Thus the United States would accompany any strike with the mobilization of requisite strike, air and missile defense, naval forces, and even force protection elements to prepare for a counterstrike and protect the U.S. Some of these moves are taking place, but they sort of still follow a cyclical pattern and next month, those same minesweepers could leave the Persian Gulf,
But when the responsible command CENTCOM starts to work on “conceptualizing, directing and executing long-term research and all-source analytic production on Iranian strategy, calculus and military operational capabilities,” which is what the Defense Intelligence Agency personnel stationed at the Florida headquarters are now doing, it seems more methodical and serious than deployments here and there. The Integrative Assessments Team, according to DIA papers, is supporting CENTCOM’s “analytic activities on Iran’s strategic calculus, operational art and military resource decision-making” in support of war planning.
The ducks are indeed being prepared, even if they are not being put in order yet.