The White House has reportedly been reviewing a plan to send as many as 120,000 US troops to the Middle East if Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment or attacks American targets.
The ambitious plan, which would take weeks or months to complete and which approaches the scale of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, was presented last Thursday at a meeting of defense chiefs, The New York Times reported late Monday, citing more than half a dozen unnamed defense officials in US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Tensions have been simmering with Tehran recently, as the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers threatened to unravel.
Last week, the US sent in reinforcements — including an aircraft carrier — following Iran’s announcement that it was suspending some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, one year after Trump withdrew from the accord and slapped tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that two of its US-bound oil tankers were sabotaged, sustaining “significant damage” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Several plans were presented during the Pentagon meeting by Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan following the latest developments, the report said. The most aggressive of them suggested deploying 120,000 troops to the Middle East.
The meeting was also said to have been attended by General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff; CIA Director Gina Haspel; and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
The updated plans were reportedly ordered by Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, reflecting the latter’s influence in pushing a hawkish stance versus Tehran despite deep disagreements within the administration on the matter.
The report said it wasn’t clear whether Trump himself has been updated on the latest plans.
The US president warned Monday that Iran would “suffer greatly” were it to “do anything,” after American intelligence suggested Tehran was planning to attack US interests in the region.
“I’m hearing little stories about Iran,” Trump told reporters as he hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House. “If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.”
An American military team’s initial assessment was that Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives Sunday to blow large holes in four ships anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a US official said Monday.
The official said each ship has a 5- to 10-foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team’s early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges.
“This is what Iran does … The sort of thing you could see Iran doing,” the official said.
Washington has warned shipping companies that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region and said it was deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged threats from Tehran.
An Israel TV report on Friday said Israel has warned the US that Iran is contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities.
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.
Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored US sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.