Six current and former US officials revealed that President Donald Trump is studying a new strategy that would allow for stricter American retaliation to Iranian forces and their agents in Iraq and Syria and their backing of extremist groups.
The officials said that the proposal was prepared by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials. It will be presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.
The proposal may be approved and announced before the end of September, revealed sources that had read the draft.
In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for US policy but leave it to US military commanders, diplomats and other US officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.
“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.
The White House declined to comment.
The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for terrorism, several sources said.
“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said a senior administration official.
The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.
The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.
The proposal includes more aggressive US interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi insurgents in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former US official said.
In addition, US naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.
US ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.
US commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.
The plan does not include an escalation of US military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the US-led fight against ISIS, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.