That was the result of a recently completed wargame exploring the fallout from a preemptive military strike against Iran by Israel, according to reports in The New York Times.
The classified wargame, dubbed Internal Look, played out the Iranian scenario to devastating results.
According to the two-week exercise conducted by Central Command, the United States would probably be drawn into a war with Iran via a Gulf of Tonkin-like attack on an American warship somewhere in the Persian Gulf, U.S. officials told the Times.
The attack would likely end with the sinking of the U.S. vessel and the death of more than 200 sailors, under the hypothetical scenario, and trigger a U.S. counterstrike aimed at eliminating nuclear facilities inside Iran.
The U.S. response would likely only delay Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program by two years, according to officials. The initial Israeli strike that would launch the conflict would push back Iran's nuclear efforts by a year.
But Pentagon strategists claim United States could strike deeper into Iran by unleashing its arsenal of long-range bombers and guided missiles. Using those weapons could push back that two-year window even further, officials say.
U.S. officials were quick to point out that the results of Internal Look were only potential outcomes. The wargame itself, they added, was not intended to mimic any scenario between Iran, Israel and the United States.
However, the timing of the wargame coincides with growing rhetoric in Washington on using military action to force Tehran to disclose details of its nuclear work.
Last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters he believes an Israeli attack on Iran is “very likely.”
On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran will attack to defend itself if it is threatened by either the United States or Israel.
That same day, House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee chairman, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), said he supports building up weapons that could be used against Iran. That plan is being spearheaded by committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).