President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Iran after an American drone was shot down by Iranian armed forces, but then decided not to go through with them, The New York Times reported Thursday night.
The targets included radar and missile batteries, the newspaper said, citing unnamed administration officials. The operation was actually underway on Thursday evening — with planes and ships heading toward their targets — when the administration called off the attack, according to the Times.
The White House declined to comment on the report. The Times said it was unclear why the attack did not go forward.
Airstrikes would have marked a dramatic escalation in the already high tensions between the two nations and would raise the specter of a broader conflict in the volatile region, which supplies one-third of the world’s oil.
Earlier Thursday, Trump downplayed Iran’s attack on the U.S. Navy drone in the Persian Gulf that escalated regional tensions and fueled a surge in oil prices, suggesting a “loose and stupid” individual may have been responsible for the strike.
“I would imagine it was a general or somebody who made a mistake by shooting that drone down,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I find it hard to believe it was intentional. It could have been somebody who was loose and stupid.”
The last time the U.S. launched a significant military operation against Iran was Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. In that operation, U.S. Navy ships sank two Iranian ships and destroyed two Iranian surveillance platforms.
The move came after the USS Samuel B. Roberts was damaged by a mine in the Persian Gulf. According to U.S. Navy history documents, it was the first time the Navy exchanged surface-to-surface missile fire with an enemy.
Later that year, a U.S. Navy cruiser shot down an Iranian commercial aircraft on a scheduled flight in Iranian airspace, killing nearly 300 people. The U.S. expressed regret for the loss of life and said it mistakenly targeted the plane. Iran said it was a deliberate and illegal act.
During his time in office, Trump has ratcheted up economic sanctions on Iran as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic, he has also said he doesn’t want a war with Tehran and he campaigned in 2016 on withdrawing the U.S. from intractable Middle East conflicts.
Yet regional analysts and lawmakers from both parties warned that the likelihood of a bigger confrontation could be looming, whether intentional or not.
“The president may not intend to go to war here but we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told reporters Thursday after a briefing at the White House.
The top Republicans in the Senate and House both called separately for Trump to take a “measured” response to the Iranian actions.
The U.S. said the Global Hawk drone was flying in international airspace about 34 kilometers (20 miles) away from Iranian territory when it was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, an oil choke point.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command.
(Bill Faries contributed to this report.)
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