President Donald Trump’s National Security Council asked for military options on striking Iran in response to that country’s support of insurgents in Iraq, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The NSC, under national security adviser John Bolton, made the request after militants aligned with Iran fired three mortar rounds into the diplomatic section of Baghdad, which includes the U.S. embassy, according to the report. The mortars landed in a vacant lot and no one was injured.
The Journal reported that the Pentagon developed plans for a strike on Iran in response to the NSC request, but it is unclear if those plans were shared with the White House or with Trump.
Unnamed sources told the Journal that the request raised alarm within the Defense Department and the State Department.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior administration official told the paper. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis told the Journal that the council regularly “provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats.”
“We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests,” Marquis told the Journal.
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But former U.S. officials told the Journal “it was unnerving that the National Security Council asked for far-reaching military options to strike Iran in response to attacks that caused little damage and no injuries.”
Bolton has long backed a more aggressive U.S. policy toward Iran. He was a strong proponent of pulling out of the Obama administration-era deal in which Iran agreed to pause its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a reduction in sanctions.
Not long after the mortar attack that riled the NSC, Bolton warned the Iranians that “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.”
Before joining the administration, Bolton was a strong advocate of a U.S. attack on Iran. In a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” Bolton argued the “inconvenient truth is that only military action” could stop the nuclear program and called for “vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
Bolton has said the Trump administration “policy is not regime change, but we want to put unprecedented pressure on the government of Iran to change its behavior.” But, citing unnamed sources, the Journal reported that since joining the administration, Bolton “has made it clear that he personally supports regime change in Iran.”
After Bolton replaced former Gen. H.R. McMaster in March, The American Conservative wrote that his appointment creates a “prospect of war with Iran that is very real.”
“He has been obsessed for many years with going to war against the Islamic Republic,” The American Conservative said.