Trump Says He Called Off Strikes Because of Potential Iranian Deaths

President says strikes he approved, then cancelled, would not have been 'proportionate' ■ Iranian officials say Trump warned of attack via Oman, called for talks

 Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton in the Oval Office on June 20, 2019.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he had aborted a military strike on Iran because such a response to Tehran's downing of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone would have caused a disproportionate loss of life. 

In a series of early morning tweets, Trump said U.S. economic sanctions against Iran were having an impact and more were imposed late on Thursday following the destruction of the U.S. drone by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. 

Smoke trail left after a U.S. Global Hawk drone was shot down over the Gulf of Oman on June 19, 2019
AFP

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Trump said the plan was to hit three different sites in response to the drone's downing, and that he was told 150 people would have died. 

"Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world," Trump tweeted. 

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White House national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel, along with the rest of Trump's team, favored a retaliatory strike, said a senior Trump administration official.
 
"There was complete unanimity amongst the president's advisors and DOD leadership on an appropriate response to Iran's activities. The president made the final decision," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Earlier Friday, Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had received a message from Trump warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent but that he was against war and wanted to talk. 

Meanwhile, several international airlines are taking precautions following a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration  order on Thursday prohibiting U.S. air carriers from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman

Trump's comments came after The New York Times reported the approval, then cancellation, of the strikes, and said the order to halt the attacks  came after intense debate at the White House among top security officials and congressional leaders.

The abrupt reversal preempted what would have been the Trump’s third military action in the Middle East, striking targets in Syria in 2017 and 2018.

Iran Tensions
AP/Haaretz

Senior administration officials told The New York Times Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and CIA Director Gina Haspel had favored a military response. However, top Pentagon officials warned that such an action could irrevocably exacerbate tensions and put U.S. forces in the Middle East at risk.

Iran says it chose not to shoot down manned plane

Meanwhile, Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, was quoted Friday as saying by Tasnim news agency: "With the U.S. drone in the region there was also an American P-8 plane with 35 people on board. This plane also entered our airspace and we could have shot it down, but we did not."

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote that the drone ignored repeated radio warnings before it was shot down. He said Tehran “does not seek war” but “is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea and air.”

Map of the location where a U.S. drone was shot down by Iran on Thursday, and the location where the missile was launched, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
U.S. Defense Department

Iran's Revolutionary Guard said earlier Thursday that it shot down a U.S. "spy" drone in the southern province of Hormozgan. "It was shot down when it entered Iran's airspace near the Kouhmobarak," it said.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Thursday that the drone was unarmed and clearly in international waters and that it could have been shot down by someone who was "loose and stupid." Asked how the U.S. will respond, Trump said to reporters, "You'll find out." 

"I think probably Iran made a mistake - I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down," Trump said during an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif rejected the claim, saying on Twitter on that the United States is lying over its drone being hit in international waters, saying Tehran will take the matter to the United Nations. 

The drone shoot-down came against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran following Trump's decision to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.

Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 deal.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. Mysterious attacks also have targeted oil tankers as Iranian-allied Houthi rebels launched bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution.