The Pentagon is presenting a broad range of military options to Donald Trump as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential air strike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to sources.
The national security meeting is likely to be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally.
Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including secretary of state Mike Pompeo, have claimed.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation.
Mr Pompeo and vice president Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war”. Mr Pence said the president will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps”, adding: “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.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to air strikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks.
One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defences have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasised on Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Gen Dunford said.
A forensic team from US Central Command is poring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished.
Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said on Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine who launched the attacks last weekend.