A senior Pentagon official said on Wednesday that there were indications that Iran could potentially carry out aggressive actions in the future, amid simmering tensions between Iran and the United States.
Tensions in the Gulf have risen since attacks on oil tankers this summer, including off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and a major assault on energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Washington has blamed Iran, which has denied being behind the attacks.
“We also continue to see indications, and for obvious reasons I won’t go into the details, that potential Iranian aggression could occur,” John Rood, the Pentagon’s No. 3 official, told reporters in Washington.
Rood did not provide details about what information he was basing that on or any timeline.
“We’ve sent very clear and blunt signals to the Iranian government about the potential consequences of aggression,” Rood said.
The United States has deployed thousands of additional military forces in the Middle East, including bombers and air defense personnel, to act as a deterrent against what Washington says is provocative Iranian behavior.
Rood‘s comments come as Iran has been facing weeks of sometimes violent protests against gasoline price hikes.
The unrest, which began on Nov. 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300 percent, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to its opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes—the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—for the unrest.
U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said last month that it was “very possible” that Iran would launch another attack in the Middle East.
“It’s the trajectory and the direction that they’re on. The attack on the oil fields in Saudi was stunning in the depth of its audaciousness. I wouldn’t rule that out going forward,” he said.
“I think the strike on Saudi Aramco in September is pretty indicative of a nation that is behaving irresponsibly. When a nation behaves that irresponsibly, you have to be very cautious when you evaluate what they might do in the future.”
A senior defense intelligence official told reporters on Nov. 19 that Iran is trying to work through proxy groups in the region.
The country tries to support “any groups that will help advance their strategic goals,” the official said. While Saudi Arabia has a probe underway into the attack on its oil facilities, the United States believes Iran was responsible, the official said.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said two days later that the U.S. Navy carrier Abraham Lincoln transiting the Strait of Hormuz was in part to “deter the Iranians from provocative bad behavior.”
Reuters contributed to this report.