Pentagon Builds Deterrent Force Against Possible Iranian Attack – The New York Times

American and allied intelligence services intercepted communications between the Iranian government and its proxy forces that analysts have interpreted as encouraging attacks by Iranian-backed terrorist groups on American forces and bases in the Middle East.

On Friday, a Pentagon official said the United States had detected “anomalous naval activity” by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and commercial ships suspected of carrying missiles and other military hardware.

The new intelligence analysis said that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran believed that an attack by proxy forces, or the perception that those forces are preparing a strike, could prompt the United States to strike at an Iranian military target, such as a naval ship or a base, according to American and allied intelligence officials.

The Iranian strategy, the analysis said, is to prod the United States into a miscalculation or overreaction. American officials do not think Iran wants a war, or even a large-scale conflict. But a more limited strike by the United States could serve the Iranian strategy, the analysis said.

Intelligence analyses and assessments in the Middle East have often been fraught, with a troubled record. And officials cautioned that any intelligence analysis that explores the motivations of adversaries is a particularly difficult endeavor. But officials noted that the assessment that Iran is trying to provoke the United States for its own political purposes is an important insight that could help the Trump administration avoid a needless escalation with Tehran.

For now, tension between Washington and Tehran continues to build, bolstered by angry rhetoric by politicians on both sides. Within the American government, John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, is seen as taking a hard line on Iran, dispatching his staff this week to deliver a message about the “ongoing threat” of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Trump has signaled a potentially softer line, however. On Thursday, he said of Iran’s leaders that he “would like to see them call me,” an invitation rejected the next day by a senior Iranian commander.

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