Pentagon to Brief Trump on Potential Military Responses to Attack on Saudi Oil
(Source: Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty; issued Sept 20. 2019)
The Pentagon is set to present a wide range of military options to President Donald Trump as he considers how to respond to an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that many in the administration have blamed on Iran.

The military on September 20 will present Trump with a list of potential air-strike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, U.S. officials familiar with the matter told AP on the condition of anonymity.

The officials said the Pentagon will also caution Trump that military action against Iran could escalate into full armed conflict.

Any decision on retaliation against Iran may depend on what kind of evidence the U.S. and Saudi investigators are able to provide to back claims that the September 14 cruise-missile and drone strike was launched by Iran.

Several administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted that Tehran was behind the attack.

Iran has denied involvement and warned the United States that any attack would lead to an "all-out war" with Tehran.

Despite the claims by Pompeo, the secretary has stated that the United States "would like a peaceful resolution" to the crisis sparked by the attack.

After meeting with allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Pompeo said on September 19 that there was an "enormous consensus in the region" that Iran carried out the attack despite its denials.

Pompeo said Washington was involved in talks to build a coalition to deter Iranian threats.

"We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution. That's my mission, that's what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it that way," Pompeo told reporters.

He did not provide details about the coalition, but Washington has been looking to establish a maritime security alliance since earlier attacks on oil tankers in Persian Gulf waters, which the United States also blamed on Iran.

Iran's foreign minister on September 20 questioned Pompeo's statement. Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement on Twitter, "Coalition for Peaceful Resolution?"

Zarif then listed eight diplomatic initiatives by Iran since 1985, including a peace plan for Yemen in 2015, and a regional nonaggression pact for the Persian Gulf region proposed earlier this year.

The U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Bahrain have said they will participate in the maritime alliance. However, most European allies have been reluctant to join for fear of stoking regional tensions.

Tensions in the region have soared to new heights following the September 14 attack on the world's biggest crude-oil-processing plant in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels had earlier said they were behind the attack.

But Washington and Riyadh have blamed Tehran. Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of Arab states fighting against the Huthis, on September 18 put on display drone and missile fragments that it said were used in the attack.

Vice President Mike Pence said Trump will "review the facts, and he'll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we're going to stand with our allies."

Officials inside and outside the U.S. administration have said the response could involve military, political, and economic actions, and that military options range from no action to air strikes or moves such as cyberattacks.

Washington could also provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north. Most of Riyadh's defense efforts have focused on threats from Huthis in Yemen in the south of the peninsula.

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Pentagon Officials Discuss Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Sept. 19, 2019)
All indications to this point are that Iran is in some way responsible for the Sept. 14 attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, a senior Defense Department official said.

At a Pentagon news conference today, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said the attack on two civilian facilities has had a dramatic impact on global markets.

Our goal has been to deter conflict in the Middle East, [and] we've said that repeatedly."
Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs

Regardless of whether the attack involved a proxy or was a direct attack, Hoffman said, it represents a dramatic escalation that was well-planned and sophisticated. "We need to get the parties back on the diplomatic path and [past] this type of action," he added.

Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, special assistant for public affairs to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that Pentagon reporters have seen the same photos that Defense Department officials have seen. "You look at the precision," he said. "I think that is not something we've seen in the past."

Though he had no announcements on increasing troop strength in the region, Ryder said, "we certainly believe that we have the forces in the region that we need to protect our forces and to deter potential future threats."

Hoffman said the U.S. position has been that Saudi Arabia will assess what took place. the Saudis make the declarations on where they believe the attacks came from and the ultimate responsibility," he said.

U.S. Central Command is in consultation with the Saudis to discuss potential ways to look at mitigating future attacks, Ryder said.

As a long-standing partner in the region, the United States has worked closely with the Saudis, he added, noting that the United States helped them defend their southern border from the Houthis.

"And to that point, I would highlight the fact that the Saudis have had some effect … in terms of countering missile and drone strikes in the south, where the attacks have been relatively more common," Ryder said.

A Centcom forensics team is still in the area of the attack in Saudi Arabia, working with the Saudis in their investigation, Ryder told reporters.

"Our goal has been to deter conflict in the Middle East, [and] we've said that repeatedly," Hoffman said. "The president has said that, the secretary has said that. We do not want conflict. What we do want is … for Iran to return to the international rules-based order and to cease the malign activity they have been promoting in the region and to get back on the diplomatic path."


(EDITOR’S NOTE: As noted by the Associated Press, Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki "made a point not to directly accuse Iran of firing the weapons or launching them from inside of Iranian territory. The kingdom has sought help from international investigators and the United Nations, both lengthening the probe and internationalizing its conclusions."

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