The top U.S. defense official presented an updated military plan to President Donald Trump's senior security aides that includes dispatching up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in case Iran attacks American interests or escalates work on nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported on Monday.
Tensions flared further and oil prices rose on Tuesday after top exporter Saudi Arabia said explosive-laden drones launched by a Yemeni armed movement aligned to Iran had attacked facilities belonging to state oil company Aramco.
Citing unnamed administration officials, the Times said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented the plan at a meeting of Trump's top security aides on Thursday, with the revisions being requested by aides to National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The plan, according to the report, did not call for a land invasion.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the report. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Pentagon declined to comment.
Earlier, a U.S. official said an American military team’s initial assessment is 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.
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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.
The team of U.S. military experts was sent to investigate the damages at the request of the UAE, but American officials have not provided any details about what exactly happened or any proof as yet about the possible Iranian involvement in the explosions.
The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said Washington should take what he called "reasonable responses short of war" after it had determined who was behind attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Iran was a prime suspect in the sabotage on Sunday although Washington had no conclusive proof, a U.S. official familiar with American intelligence said on Monday. Iran has denied involvement.
"We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war," Ambassador John Abizaid told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh in remarks published on Tuesday.
"It's not in (Iran's) interest, it's not in our interest, it's not in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a conflict."
An Iranian parliamentary spokesman, Behrouz Nemati, blamed Israel for the tanker attacks on Tuesday, saying "The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief" without providing any details on what role Israel may have played in the attacks.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have intensified since Trump pulled out of a 2015 international deal to curb Iran's nuclear activities and imposed increasingly strict sanctions on Tehran.
Trump wants to force Tehran to agree to a broader arms control accord and has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in a show of force against what U.S. officials have said are threats to U.S. troops in the region.
Iran has said the U.S. is engaging in "psychological warfare," called the U.S. military presence "a target" rather than a threat and said it will not allow its oil exports to be halted.
The Times said among those attending the Thursday meeting were Trump's national security adviser John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.
Several plans were detailed, the Times said, and "the uppermost option called for deploying 120,000 troops, which would take weeks or months to complete."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.