US President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb targets in Iran before dawn on Friday and cancel it at the last minute points to how certain incidents in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf of Oman may push the region to a catastrophic situation.
The downing of an unmanned US surveillance drone by Iran early on Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz prompted Trump’s decision to launch retaliatory strikes on several Iranian targets. But he pulled back after holding long talks with Congressional leaders and his national security advisers.
The White House initially declined to comment on the planned strikes first reported by The New York Times.
But in a series of tweets on Friday, Trump said he called off the airstrikes 10 minutes before they were to start after being told that at least 150 people would die in the offensive.
This, according to him, would not be a “proportionate” response to Iran’s downing of an unmanned drone. Trump said he is in no hurry.
There may be other factors too that prompted Trump to call off the predawn operation against Tehran.
The Times said top Pentagon officials warned Trump that US airstrikes would trigger a conflict that could harm US forces in the region.
Confusion prevailed on both sides over the drone’s exact location when it was hit by Iran’s surface-to-air missile.
Iran said the US drone entered its airspace early on Thursday and was hit by its missile around 4.05am. Parts of the drone were later recovered from its territorial waters, according to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The US maintains that the drone was shot down in international airspace.
The New York Times report, citing unnamed White House officials, said US fighter planes were in the air and warships were in position to bomb Iranian targets including radar and missile batteries. The bombings were to be carried out before dawn to avoid casualties.
The drone downing came days after two oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. The US, UK and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the attacks.
Denying the allegation, Iran said it came to the rescue of some 44 crew members and brought them safely to its shores. It also rejected a video provided by the US Central Command of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps approaching one of the targeted tankers to remove an unexploded mine from the hull.
Democratic leaders say that instead of bringing home troops as promised, Trump may get them involved in another Middle East conflict.
Although the president prevented Friday’s airstrikes, he may again order bombings on Iranian targets if more such provocative acts happen in the Gulf.