Trump Ordered Military Strike On Iran, Then Backed Off Hours Later
President Trump reportedly gave the order to attack Iran Thursday night in response to its downing of a US drone that Washington claims was in international waters at the time. The US went so far as to maneuver planes and ships into position before the strike was called off.
The New York Times and WSJ report, citing a handful of senior officials, that the president was prepared to attack a number of Iranian targets, including radar and missile batteries. However, he eventually gave the word to stand down, with the NYT reporting that Trump chose to pull US military forces back, though it isn’t clear why. Earlier in the day, Trump said during a press conference with Canada’s Justin Trudeau that it was possible that a ‘rogue’ general had authorized the drone take-down, and that the whole incident might be some kind of mistake. The strike was still in motion as late as 7 pm ET (just before dawn Iran time), and officials were surprised when it didn’t happen, given the intense discussions between top national security personnel.
According to Reuters, a senior administration said US warplanes took to the air and ships were put in position for a retaliatory attack only for an order to come to stand down, without any weapons being fired. Strikes had been set for early in the day to minimize harm to civilians and the military, and it was unclear if the administration would move ahead with attacks at a later date. Trump made clear that the situation would have been much more tense if the unmanned $130 million surveillance drone had been flown by a pilot. Washington had warned Tehran of the attack via Oman.
The attack would have been the third strike ordered in the Middle East by Trump, following two missile strikes in Syria in 2017 and 2018. It wasn’t clear whether Trump simply changed his mind on the attacks, or whether the military was embracing a different strategy.
Trump’s national security advisers split about whether to respond militarily. Senior administration officials said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and CIA Director Gina Haspel had favored a military response. But top Pentagon officials cautioned that such an action could set off a spiraling escalation that could draw in American forces in the region.
For what it’s worth, Trump’s decision to cancel the strike will please international officials who had urged the US to exercise restraint. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Friday urged the US and Iran to resolve issues through dialogue in response to a question Friday about reports of an aborted American military strike.
Still, with Iran set to breach its limits on enriched uranium set out in the Iran deal within the next few days, the prospect of military escalation is hardly off the table.