A US intelligence assessment conducted in recent days has concluded that Iranian-backed militias and proxy forces could be planning a strike against US military forces or interests in the Middle East, according to three defense officials.
Officials emphasize their concern centers around the threat from those militias located in Syria and several other locations in the Middle East. They all describe the potential threat as ongoing and worrisome. However, they would not describe the specific intelligence that continues to be gathered.
These militias have increased access to ballistic missile and other advanced weapons inventories as Iran continues to move weaponry into Syria.
While there are no specific indicators of an Iranian attack, the concerns stem in part from Iran’s statements that the US was one of the countries behind an attack on an Iranian military parade this month that killed at least 29 people.
National security adviser John Bolton’s issued a stark warning to Iran at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.”
Officials tell CNN there continues to be a stream of worrying intelligence about the intentions of Iranian proxies.
The US assessment is Iran could possibly use these forces, rather than those with direct identifiable connections to the Iranian central government. The central government continues to publicly focus on trying to win support from European nations to maintain some type of nuclear agreement.
Officials would not describe the specific intelligence, but in addition to monitoring public statements from Iran, the US intelligence community is capable of using overhead satellites and communication intercepts.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed “foreign mercenaries” backed by the United States for the attack on the military parade on September 22. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted “Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks. Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp has also blamed Saudi Arabia for being behind the attack.
Using proxies could make it difficult for US intelligence to readily identify targets to strike. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a recent CNN interview, made it clear Iran’s use of militias and proxies throughout the Middle East also could provoke a US military response if US interests come under attack. “They’re going to be held accountable. If they’re responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we’re going to go to the source.”
Pompeo’s comments came as the White House earlier this month warned it would hold Iran responsible for not stopping Shia militia groups responsible for rocket strikes near US diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and Basra.