An investigative report published by the Intercept on Wednesday noted that the plan – codenamed “Support Sentry” – was exposed after The Intercept, an American non-profit news organization, reviewed a classified Pentagon budget manual listing emergency and special programs.
According to the manual, which was produced for the 2019 fiscal year, the so-called Support Sentry plan was funded in 2018 and 2019, the report further read.
The document further classified Support Sentry as an Iran “CONPLAN,” or concept plan, a broad contingency plan for a war that the US Department of Defense develops in anticipation of a potential crisis.
“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on numbered plans. Iran remains the leading source of instability in the region and is a threat to the United States and our partners. We are constantly monitoring threat streams in coordination with our regional partners and will not hesitate to defend US national interests in the region,” said Maj. John Moore, a spokesperson for US Central Command, or CENTCOM, when asked about Support Sentry and whether it is still in place.
Such a program, the report noted, is just one example of the Pentagon’s increasing comfort with, and support for Israel’s aggressive stance toward Iran.
Last month, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides encouragingly stated that “Israel can and should do whatever they need to deal with [Iran] and we’ve got their back.”
The report went on to say that due to the collapse of diplomacy with Iran despite Washington’s attempts under former American president Donald Trump, the Pentagon quietly moved Israel into its Central Command area of responsibility, officially grouping it with the main Arab countries of the Middle East, adding that the reshuffling has remained under President Joe Biden.
What Trump did through the so-called Abraham Accords – normalizing ties between Israel and the two Persian Gulf Arab states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – was in fact aimed at aligning these countries against a common enemy: Iran, rather than peace deals, as they are touted, it said.
Furthermore, the report added, the US and Israel have embarked upon conducting a growing number of joint military drills in recent months that Israeli leaders say are designed to test potential attack plans with Iran.
Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation and retired US military planner who served as a strategist for the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, told The Intercept that contingency plans, such as Support Sentry, provide “the general outline – the overarching ‘concept’- of a plan to take some major action against an enemy.”
In other words, the mere existence of contingency plans like Support Sentry suggests that the US military takes the possibility of a war with Iran seriously enough to prepare a strategic framework for it. Moreover, CONPLANs also lead to consequences short of war, like military exercises.
“CONPLANs serve as the intellectual framework or context when developing military exercises because it makes sense for units that are honing their skills to have that work be relevant to likely tasks,” Wood further stated.
In 2018, Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal – technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – and launched his plan of “maximum pressure” on Tehran by reinstating previous sanctions and imposing fresh ones.
On January 16, 2021, just four days before Biden’s inauguration, Trump ordered the military to reassign Israel to CENTCOM, its Middle East combatant command, aiming to force the Biden administration to abandon diplomacy and adopt the framework of his so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
This is while the US military, historically, has rather counter-intuitively kept Israel under its European Command, or EUCOM, in order to avoid tensions with Persian Gulf Arab allies like Saudi Arabia, the report said.
“Tasking CENTCOM to serve as the primary U.S. defense coordinator with Israel instead of EUCOM would acknowledge the new political reality of the Middle East under the Abraham Accords. Our bill requires a study of the potential transition, which could increase US-Israel military cooperation with regional partners and help better secure the Middle East against threats like Iran,” Sen. Tom Cotton noted in a press release in December 2020, days before Trump ordered the military to reassign Israel to CENTCOM.
Since Biden came to power, US-Israel military cooperation rapidly expanded to encompass unprecedented joint naval exercises, so much so that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also remarked in April last year that “those exercises would have been unimaginable, unthinkable, just a few years ago.”
Back in January, the US and Israel conducted their largest joint military exercise in history, codenamed Juniper Oak. Some 6,400 American and 1,500 Israeli troops participated in the training exercise, involving more than 140 aircraft, an aircraft carrier, and live fire exercises with over 180,000 pounds of live munitions.
“Notably, Juniper Oak involved exercises in which American aircraft provided mid-air refueling services to Israeli fighter aircraft – a key capability Israel lacks and without which its aircraft cannot reach Iranian targets – and drills involving American B-52 bombers dropping bunker-buster bombs on targets designed to resemble Iranian nuclear sites,” the report added.
In its most recent National Security Strategy, the high-level planning document detailing nuclear threats and how to respond to them, dated October 2022, the White House also hinted at the military option.
“We will pursue diplomacy to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon while remaining postured and prepared to use other means should diplomacy fail,” according to the document.