President Donald Trump on Friday confirmed that the U.S. military was “cocked and loaded” to retaliate against Iran after the country shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz but called the operation off at the last minute.
In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump said he reversed course, because he felt the response would not be “proportionate” to the Iranian action. The president said he learned that 150 Iranians would likely die just ten minutes before the strike, so he decided to call off the mission.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump tweeted.
“I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” he added. “Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”
The aborted operation to strike Iran capped a day of mounting tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which prompted concerns by some in Washington that the two adversaries were on course toward a military conflict in the Middle East as each side blamed the other for the incident.
While the U.S. and Iran gave conflicting accounts over where the drone had been shot down, the two countries both agreed that Iran shot down the drone. Tehran maintained that the aircraft had entered its airspace, while U.S. Central Command denied that assertion, claiming the aircraft fell in international waters.
The U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said Friday that it was “important we do everything” to de-escalate tensions with Iran.
“Our diplomacy does not give Iran the right to respond with military force,” he told reporters in Saudi Arabia. “Iran needs to meet our diplomacy with diplomacy and not military force.”
Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in turn said if Trump did not want war with War, he should ease sanctions on the nation.
“Sanctions on Iran is economic terrorism. We will respond to it by all means necessary. Today’s crisis stems from Washington’s withdrawal from JCPOA, and obstructing real diplomatic overtures,” he said on Twitter, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “But this process is reversible. Every tangible constructive step will be met in kind.”
Trump signaled on Thursday that the U.S. was weighing options for how to respond to the shooting down of the U.S. drone.
“They’re going to find out they made a very bad mistake,” Trump said at the White House as he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The drone was in international waters — clearly. We have it documented.”
The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, called the downing of the U.S. drown “a clear message to America.”
“Our borders are Iran’s red line, and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Salami said Thursday in remarks carried by the Iranian state television. “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”
But Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, characterized the strike as “an unprovoked attack,” and said “Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are categorically false.”
Thursday’s strike came amid escalating tensions between the two adversaries. American officials accused Iran last week for conducting attacks against two oil tankers in the the same area. Trump himself last week blamed Iran for the tanker attacks, telling Fox News, “It was them that did it.”
Iran has denied the accusations. The country’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to accusations from U.S. officials by tweeting that the Trump administration “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence.”
In an earlier tweet about the tanker attacks, Zarif pointed out that the attacks on the tankers, one owned by a Japanese shipping company, occurred as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, which he described as “extensive and friendly talks.”
“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired,” he wrote.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced Monday that the U.S. would send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East to address what he described as “air, naval and ground-based threats.”