The May 3 overhead images showed fully assembled missiles being loaded onto boats in the Persian Gulf, three officials told The Times, raising concerns that they could be used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to target US Navy vessels.
Other intelligence reportedly hints at threats to commercial shipping vessels and to US troops in Iraq from Tehran-backed militias.
The intelligence was taken by the US’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to indicate that Iran might be preparing to attack US forces.
But others, including senior members of the Trump administration, senior European and Iraqi officials, and members of Congress reportedly believe that Iran’s move to arm the ships may be a defensive response to provocations from Washington rather than a show of aggression.
The intelligence prompted the White House to send Bolton to announce on May 6 that a US aircraft carrier and fleet of bombers would be sent to the Persian Gulf as a deterrent.
On Wednesday, Pompeo ordered the withdrawal of Americans from the US Embassy in Baghdad.
CNN first reported last week that intelligence showing Iran to be moving short-range ballistic missiles by boat was among the reasons prompting the US to increase its military presence in the Gulf.
According to the officials who spoke with The Times, Iran mobilized its forces because of US sanctions designed to stop nations from buying its oil and in response to the US’s designation of the Guard as a terrorist group.
On Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump was unhappy with Bolton and Pompeo’s aggressive approach to the situation in Iran.
Several officials reportedly told The Post that Trump wanted to try a diplomatic strategy to lower tensions with Iran and avoid something that might spiral into an armed conflict.
The US military has laid out plans to deploy up to 120,000 US troops in the Middle East, according to national security officials cited in a separate New York Times report.