'Israeli assessment: Growing prospect of US-Iran conflict'

Israeli TV claims Iran weighing attack on Saudi oil production facilities

Channel 13 says Tehran has ruled out striking at US bases; quotes Arab sources saying some in IRGC want to hit Israeli targets, others warn of ‘suicidal’ risk of conflict with US

Illustrative photo from 2004 of an industrial plant that strips natural gas from freshly pumped crude oil at Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oil field at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia's Rub al-Khali desert. (AP Photo/Bruce Stanley, File)
Illustrative photo from 2004 of an industrial plant that strips natural gas from freshly pumped crude oil at Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oil field at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia's Rub al-Khali desert. (AP Photo/Bruce Stanley, File)

Israel has warned the US that Iran is contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities, an Israeli TV report said Friday night, as tensions between Tehran and the Trump Administration soar.

The unsourced Channel 13 report said the Iranians were “considering various aggressive acts” against American or American-allied targets. Tehran had looked at targeting American bases in the Gulf, but that had been deemed too drastic. The main target they were interested in was “Saudi oil production facilities,” the TV report said. Such a strike would also send world oil prices soaring and enable Iran to get more income from its oil sales, the report added.

Channel 13 also quoted unnamed Arab intelligence sources saying there was a debate raging in the Iranian leadership about striking US and US-allied targets, with some in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps pushing for attacks, including against Israeli targets, while others cautioned that it would be “suicidal” to get into serious military conflict with the US.

The Channel 13 report came four days after the same TV channel first reported that the Israeli Mossad had tipped off the White House two weeks ago about an Iranian plan to attack either a US or US-allied target. That earlier report did not specify potential targets for such an ostensible attack.

The Israeli intel was conveyed by an Israeli delegation led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, which met with American intelligence officials at the White House late last month, the May 6 TV report said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair MK Avi Dichter, left, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, right, at an FADC meeting in the Knesset, November 19, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing US pressure campaign against them, and they are considering retaliating against US interests in the Gulf,” an official was quoted as saying.

Channel 13’s military analyst Alon Ben-David said Friday that the Iranians might be “underestimating American determination” to defend US interests. “In Israel, there is an assessment that the prospect of confrontation between the US and Iran is growing — because the US is ready to respond harshly to any attack” including on Saudi Arabia, he said.

Ultimately, he added, the decision on whether to attack US and US-allied targets would rest with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had on Thursday threatened a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack by Iran, in the latest of a series of escalating statements and actions.

“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against US interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive US response,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve,” he said.

The Pentagon said Friday that the US would move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East region to counter threats from Iran.

The department provided no details, but a defense official said the move comes after intelligence showed that the Iranians have loaded military equipment and missiles onto small boats.

Also on Friday, the US Maritime Administration warned that Iran could try to attack American commercial vessels, including oil tankers, Reuters reported.

US officials announced Sunday that they would rush an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region.

The United States had already announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and nuclear-capable bombers to the region, saying it had information of plans for Iranian-backed attacks.

An American official said the decision to send in more forces was based in part on intelligence indicating that Iran had moved short-range ballistic missiles by boat in waters off its shores.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear whether the boats with missiles represented a new military capability that could be used against US forces or were only being moved to shore locations.

The moves have frightened some European allies as well as President Donald Trump’s Democratic rivals, who fear the administration is pushing for war based on overhyped intelligence.

Pompeo, who earlier canceled a trip to Greenland to rush back to Washington, however said: “We do not seek war.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks to board a plane before departing from London Stansted Airport, north of London, on May 9, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / POOL / AFP)

“But Iran’s 40 years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves,” said Pompeo, referencing the 1979 Islamic revolution that transformed Iran from close US ally to sworn foe.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the United States Naval Forces Central Command, told Reuters he would bring the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln through the Gulf’s sensitive Strait of Hormuz if need be.

“If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” Malloy said. “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”

Iran on Wednesday said it would suspend some commitments under a 2015 nuclear accord rejected by Trump, frustrated that renewed US sanctions have prevented the country from enjoying the economic fruits of compliance with the deal.

Earlier Thursday, Trump said he sought talks with Iran.

“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask.”

US President Donald Trump (C) speaks during event on ending surprise medical billing at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2019. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

Trump also said Washington was not looking for a conflict with Tehran, but refused to divulge why the carrier had been dispatched.

“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump said, according to Reuters. “They were very threatening and we have to have great security for this country and many other places.”

Asked about the possibility of a military confrontation, he said “I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen,”

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