THE US is planning to deploy as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces, a bombshell report claimed last night.
In chilling echoes of the invasion of Iraq, US defence chiefs have reportedly drawn up fresh military plans that would see a huge response to Iranian aggression.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan revealed the audacious strategy to America’s top national security aides last Thursday, according to the New York Times.
The top secret plans are said to spell out how a vast land, air and sea force would be sent to America’s regional allies bordering Iran should its foe attack US forces.
The deployment could also be sparked if Iran accelerates its work on nuclear weapons, according to defense sources – in breach of an international treaty.
President Trump’s hard-line national security adviser John Bolton is said to have ordered the heavily beefed-up military plans in response to growing tensions in the region.
ECHOES OF IRAQ
It is unclear if President Trump – who has tried to scale back US military involvement in the Middle East – would order the deployment.
Such a large force would be able to launch an invasion on the scale of Iraq in 2003 – and would almost certainly be met with a military response from Iran.
Mr Trump yesterday refused to play down the prospect of an all-out war.
When asked if an invasion was on the table, the president said: “We’ll see what happens with Iran.
“If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake.”
Spokesmen for Mr Shanahan and Gen Joseph F Dunford Jr – the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff – declined to comment to the New York Times.
The revelations come after it emerged yesterday that oil tankers bound for the US were hit by a “sabotage attack” off the United Arab Emirates.
Emirati officials are investigating – and US intelligence believes Iran is responsible.
A huge US naval presence has already built up in the Gulf over recent days as Washington accuses Terhan of plotting to disrupt and attack its interests and allies.
An aircraft carrier group, Patriot missiles and B-52 bombers have been sent to counter alleged – but as yet specified – threats in the region.
And last night Iran threatened to attack US ally Israel in retaliation for any strike by American military forces.
Iranian Parliament’s vice-speaker Ali Motahhari said: “The US military forces’ deployment in the Persian Gulf is more of the nature of psychological warfare.
“They are not ready for a war – especially when Israel is within our range.”
Iran has allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip – but it also has a number of missiles aimed at Israel.
We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday warned that America and Iran are in danger of stumbling into a conflict.
Mr Hunt said he would be speaking to visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as European allies about fears a war could erupt accidentally.
He said: “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict.
“What we need is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking.”
And ex-Admiral Lord West said launching military strikes against Iran would be “an absolute catastrophe”.
Speaking at Westminster, the former military top brass said the current situation in the region was “extremely dangerous”.
Lord West added: “There are no doubt are powerful factions within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that feel an attack on Iran would be a good thing, believe it or not.
“They think that they would very quickly be able to suppress the enemy capability and then there would be a regime change.
“They are wrong. It would be an absolute catastrophe.”