U.S. Examining Missile and Drone Parts for Clues in Saudi Oil Attacks

WASHINGTON — American intelligence analysts and military investigators are examining a missile guidance mechanism recovered in Saudi Arabia that may provide clues as to the missile’s origins and flight path, as they continue gathering information to make the administration’s case that Iran was responsible for last weekend’s attack against Saudi oil facilities.

Analysts are poring over satellite imagery of the damage sites, and assessing radar tracks of at least some of the low-flying cruise missiles that were used. Communication intercepts from before and after the attacks are being reviewed to see if they implicate Iranian officials.

And, perhaps most important, forensic analysis is underway of missile and drone parts from the attack sites, including at least one mostly intact cruise missile recovered from the area, officials said.

American military investigators are in Saudi Arabia working with counterparts to examine the guidance mechanism in the cruise missile that was recovered. Investigators are hoping they can trace the missile’s flight path, using data in the guidance system, back to its origin — possibly to precise geographic coordinates.

Within the administration, there is much discussion over what retaliatory action to take, if any, and whether such a response would appear to be just doing the Saudis’ bidding.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have presented President Trump with an array of military options — presumably both bombing targets such as the missile-launching sites and storage areas and covert cyber operations that could disable or disrupt Iran’s oil infrastructure.

A big concern is to ensure that any strikes be proportional and not escalate the conflict, particularly with world leaders gathering in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. Officials also voiced worry about the cost of doing nothing, at least openly, in response to attacks that have cut in half the oil production of one of Washington’s main allies in the Middle East.

American officials say they have no doubt that the drones and missiles used in the attacks were Iranian technology and components. But they have not yet released information on whether the strikes were planned and directed by Iran, and launched by Iran’s proxies in the region — or whether they actually were launched from Iranian territory.

Intelligence officials have ruled out Yemen as the origin of the attacks and do not believe they emanated from Iraq, either. That leaves Iran or possibly some vessel in the northern Persian Gulf as the staging ground.

Several American military and intelligence officials said they believed they would ultimately conclude that the attacks were launched from Iran. Officials have said Iran is almost certainly behind the strike, given the scope, scale and precision of the attacks.

Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said in remarks at a speech in Northern Virginia on Monday night that if Iran was found responsible for directing or carrying out the attacks, that would amount to an act of war and the United States would “need to respond.”

Mr. Morell, who said he had no inside information, said he favored some kind of proportional military strike, perhaps against Iranian missile sites and storage areas but not against Iranian oil infrastructure. He also said it would be important to have allies such as Britain and France join any retaliation so it was not just the United States going it alone.

France has no evidence showing where drones that attacked the Saudi oil facilities came from, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.

“Up to now France doesn’t have evidence to say that these drones came from one place or another, and I don’t know if anyone has evidence,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Cairo.

Several top administration and military officials said they remained keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s reluctance to carry out military strikes that could pull the United States into a larger, longer conflict in the Middle East.

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