Think of this as the hard place: Last Wednesday and Thursday Iran test-fired long and medium-range missiles. In case the world missed their point, Gen. Hossein Salami, the air force commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said the exercise would "demonstrate our resolve and might against enemies who in recent weeks have threatened Iran with harsh language."




Three of the rockets were a new version of the Shahab-3 missile which has a range of 1,250 miles carrying a 1-ton conventional warhead. The exercise was conducted at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for 40 percent of the world's oil. The long-range Shahab-3 is capable of reaching Israel, Turkey, the Arab Peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Our hands are always on the trigger," said Gen. Salami.




The missile test came only weeks after Israel conducted a massive training exercise in the Mediterranean with more than 100 planes demonstrating its own long-range capabilities. All of this is taking place in the context of Iran's commitment to its program of enriching uranium, giving them the ability to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes only and it has rejected all appeals by the world community to cease and desist, stating unequivocally that it will not be delayed or deterred from acquiring the technology.




At the same time, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while repeatedly questioning the validity of the Holocaust, has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Some in the U.S. intelligence community have referred to the Iranian leadership as "apocalyptic Shiites," insisting that those in power, such as the Revolutionary Guard, are "nuts."




Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during a recent visit to the U.S., said, "Iran must be stopped by all possible means" from acquiring a nuclear capability. Drastic and robust measures are called for, said Olmert, code for suggesting military strikes.




President Bush, in a speech to the Israeli parliament in May, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state, said, "Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons."




Israel, it's been reported, would rather not act alone in confronting Iran. But over the last few months it seems ever more likely that Israel will act, as it did with Syria in September of last year, a strike which was the focus of intense speculation. In a nutshell, the Israelis believed that Syria (aided by the North Koreans) was assembling materiel for a nuclear device. The Israeli raid was a stunning success. Syria did not retaliate nor did it admit there had been a serious violation of its airspace.




And now the rock: While the Bush administration has outsourced its diplomacy with Iran (we have not had an ambassador in Iran for 30 years), relying on the Europeans to do the heavy diplomatic lifting, it has not outsourced contingency planning for a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. For longer than we know, with Israel in the mix, we have stood on a precipice. In a prescient 2006 article by Seymour M. Hersh, in the New Yorker, Hersh wrote of the elaborate and ongoing plans to target Iran. Though the government is silent about operational plans, we can only assume that what Hersh described two years ago remains viable if not more intensely relevant today. "The planning is enormous, at the U.S. Central Command headquarters, in Florida; the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, in Virginia; and the U.S. Strategic Command, in Nebraska," writes Hersh, sourcing a senior intelligence analyst.




Regarding strategic planning, the American public and the press are privy only to the tip of the iceberg. What is known is that should President Bush determine that before leaving office he wants to take down Iran's nuclear program, the unintended consequences will make Iraq look like a stroll in the park. The Middle East and the world will be thrown into even greater chaos: oil could climb to $300 a barrel devastating world economies. Iraq would likely re-ignite with a vengeance while Hezbollah and Hamas launch attacks against Israel. The Strait of Hormuz would be mined by Iran. If Iran has fielded worldwide sleeper cells, they will be awakened. And not to forget those long-range rockets.




When Barack Obama emphasizes direct talks and hard-edged diplomacy with Iran, the neocons, to include Bush, characterize such dialogue as "appeasement," and resurrect Neville Chamberlain's visit to Munich, Germany, in 1938, when he struck an agreement with Hitler. The reality is that tenacious, unrelenting diplomacy is the only alternative &

as it was with Libya and continues to be with North Korea. Those lengthy negotiations were never characterized as "appeasement."




One final point: Hersh reports that military planners and the White House have not taken tactical nuclear weapons off the table. Bunker-busting bombs such as the B61-11, strategists argue, would be the only weapon that could penetrate and destroy Iran's underground nuclear sites. Of course, there would be radiation and contamination lasting years with high collateral damage. This is a nightmare scenario, but apparently all options remain on the table.