U.S. News

Trump administration weighing retaliatory action against Iran after Saudi oil attack

Key Points
  • The Trump administration is weighing a range of options for a retaliatory action against Iran
  • In a national security meeting on Monday, U.S. military leaders provided President Donald Trump with a menu of possible actions against Iran.
  • Actions could include a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard assets.
President Donald Trump welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Trump administration is weighing a range of options for a retaliatory action against Iran, including a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard assets, U.S. officials and others briefed on the deliberations told NBC News.

In a national security meeting on Monday, U.S. military leaders provided President Donald Trump with a menu of possible actions against Iran. But the president, seeking a narrowly focused response that wouldn't draw the U.S. into broader military conflict with Iran, asked for more options, people briefed on the meeting said.

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That could entail a strike by Saudi Arabia, whose oil facilities were hit Sunday in an unprecedented attack, that the U.S. would support with intelligence, targeting information and surveillance capabilities — but without the U.S. actually firing any weapons at Iran, one person familiar with the planning said.

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Still, in the wake of Sunday's attack, U.S. military planners have revisited a long-identified list of potential Iranian targets that could constitute a proportional response. Those include a strike on Iran's Abadan oil refinery, one of the world's largest, or Kharg Island, Iran's biggest oil export facility. Attacks on either location would significantly impede Iran's ability to process and sell oil, which the Trump administration has already been working to restrict after pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Other possibilities include hitting missile launch sites, bases or other assets belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite Iranian military unit blamed for much of Iran's paramilitary operations against adversaries outside of the country.

There were no indications that any U.S. military action was imminent, and officials said that no decision has been made. But the Defense Department is also working through options to increase its presence in the region by sending more forces and military assets to the Persian Gulf, officials familiar with the planning said.

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Trump's desire for more options comes amid growing confidence by the U.S. intelligence community that Iran was behind Sunday's unprecedented attack on Saudi oil facilities. Some of that intelligence pointing to Iran as the culprit has now been made available to U.S. senators in a classified reading room, senators and their aides said Tuesday.

"I'm, like, 100 percent convinced," Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said after reading the intelligence report. He said the intelligence made available was about three pages long. "It's very brief, which means to me it's pretty cut and dry."

Although Trump has both he and the Defense Department are deeply reluctant to get drawn into a military conflict with Iran. Those concerns have prompted a renewed look at non-military responses to Iran, such as a covert cyber action or increased sanctions that would be coordinated with other countries.

Bradley Bowman, a former Army officer and Senate national security aide, said the goal for U.S. military planners as they review longstanding options should be to re-establish the threat of deterrence without inflicting significant Iranian casualties, which could be exploited by Iran's government.

"Clearly those who conducted this attack were not deterred. That means inflicting pain," said Bowman, now a senior director at the hawkish think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "But we want that pain to be inflicted in a wise way that does not increase the credibility in the eyes of the Iranian people of a regime that is not credible."