President Donald Trump had approved a series of military strikes against Iran on Thursday, leaving planes and ships in attack-ready positions when he suddenly called off the retaliatory maneuver.
According to the New York Times, it is unclear if the change of heart was Trump’s alone, or a signal of a greater shift in strategy.
The strikes, meant to send a clear message to Iran after the nation shot down a $130 million U.S. drone, were reportedly championed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Adviser John Bolton. Some Pentagon officials, however, warned that ratcheting up the conflict would pose a significant threat to American soldiers posted in the region.
Congressional leaders had been briefed of the plan in the Situation Room earlier on Thursday. Targets included radar and missile batteries, and the plan was to be carried out in the early hours of Friday to minimize civilian casualties.
Despite the plan’s readiness, Trump may have telegraphed his personal leanings Thursday afternoon during a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he went out of his way to minimize the seriousness of the felling of the drone, calling it a likely “mistake.”
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats were urging the President to cool the temperature of the situation, especially as a series of recent events has stretched tensions to the breaking point.
Along with the drone attack — which Iran claims it only carried out because the craft was in its airspace; the U.S. maintains that it was in international territory — there was an explosion of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week that also raised American haunches (Tehran denies culpability). Iran also decided recently to ignore a crucial provision of a nuclear pact signed in 2015 and to exceed the limits on stockpiling uranium. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2017.