Archive for June 21, 2019

Iran shows ‘retrieved sections of US military drone,’ says it warned U.S. 

June 21, 2019

Source: Iran shows ‘retrieved sections of US military drone,’ says it warned U.S. – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division said he would say more about the debris later.

BY REUTERS, JERUSALEM POST STAFF
 JUNE 21, 2019 14:53
Iran shows 'retrieved sections of U.S. military drone,' says it warned U.S.

Iranian state television on Friday showed what it said were retrieved sections of a U.S. military drone downed by Iran.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, said on the program that the debris was proof that the U.S. drone had been over Iranian territorial waters when it was shot down by the Guards.

He further stated that Iran had warned the US several times before shooting down the drone, but that the US didn’t respond.

Hajizadeh said the debris were picked up from Iranian territorial waters.

Pieces of the American drone that was allegedly shot down by Iran

Pieces of the American drone that was allegedly shot down by Iran

A piece of the American drone that was allegedly shot down by Iran

iPieces of the American drone that was allegedly shot down by Iran
US President Donald Trump called Iran’s shooting down of a US military drone on Thursday a new fly in the ointment and claimed that it may have been a mistake.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the drone was unarmed and clearly over international waters, adding that it could have been shot down by someone “loose and stupid.

”He also said the US has documented that its drone was above international waters, not Iranian territory, as Tehran claims. When asked how the US will respond, he said, “You’ll find out.”

On Friday morning the New York Times reported that Trump approved strikes against Iranian radar and missile batteries in retaliation for the downing of the drone. After warplanes and ships were ready to carry out the order, Trump cancelled the strikes.

Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight, warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent.

“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues … he gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue,” one of the officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The second official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision … However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

 

Trump sent message to Iran: Hold talks or we’ll strike — report 

June 21, 2019

Source: Trump sent message to Iran: Hold talks or we’ll strike — report | The Times of Israel

US president said to have urged Tehran to come to the table, warning of impending military action over drone’s downing; Iranian officials say they conveyed matter to Khamenei

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

US President Donald Trump on Thursday night urged Iran to come to the table to hold talks in a message conveyed through Oman, and warned that a US strike against the Islamic Republic could be imminent, according to a report Friday morning.

“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues… he gave a short period of time to get our response, but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei to decide about this issue,” an unnamed official told Reuters.

Another official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision… However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

The report comes after American officials said the US made preparations for a military strike against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a US surveillance drone, but the operation was abruptly called off with just hours to go.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries. The New York Times reported that Trump had approved the strikes Thursday night, but then called them off. The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials.

US President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 14, 2019. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

The White House on Thursday night declined requests for comment.

Asked earlier in the day about a US response to the attack, Trump said, “You’ll soon find out.”

The swift reversal was a stark reminder of the serious risk of military conflict between US and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region. As tensions mounted in recent weeks, there have been growing fears that either side could make a dire miscalculation that led to war.

According to the official who spoke to The Associated Press, the strikes were recommended by the Pentagon and were among the options presented to senior administration officials.

It was unclear how far the preparations had gone, but no shots were fired or missiles launched, the official said.

The military operation was called off around 7:30 p.m. Washington time, after Trump had spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk on the tarmac of the al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 13, 2018. (Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning/US Air Force via AP)

On Thursday night Israeli security sources told Channel 13 they were concerned a lack of a decisive US response would embolden Iran to become more aggressive.

The downing of the US drone — a huge, unmanned aircraft — over the Strait of Hormuz prompted accusations from the US and Iran about who was the aggressor. Iran insisted the drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters.

Trump’s initial comments on the attack were succinct. He declared in a tweet that “Iran made a very big mistake!” But he also suggested that shooting down the drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation, suggesting he may have been looking for some way to avoid a crisis.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, cast the shoot-down as “a new wrinkle… a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said that “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”

He said the American drone was unarmed and unmanned and “clearly over international waters.” It would have “made a big, big difference” if someone had been inside, he said.

Iran said Friday it had “indisputable” evidence the US drone had violated its airspace.

Iran said Friday it had called in the Swiss ambassador, whose country has represented US interests since the severance of diplomatic relations in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, to issue a formal protest.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi provided the ambassador with “indisputable” evidence that the drone had violated Iranian airspace, the foreign ministry said. Araghchi “reiterated that Iran does not seek a war and conflict in the Persian Gulf,” but warned: “The Islamic Republic of Iran would not hesitate for a moment to decisively defend its territory against any aggression.”

Iranian soldiers take part in the National Persian Gulf Day in the Strait of Hormuz, April 30, 2019. (AFP/Atta Kenare, File)

The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the US out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.

The other world powers who remain signed on to the nuclear deal have set a meeting to discuss the US withdrawal and Iran’s announced plans to increase its uranium stockpile for June 28, a date far enough in the future to perhaps allow tensions to cool.

On Thursday, Iran called the sanctions “economic terrorism.”

Citing Iranian threats, the US recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.

 

What Trump officials and supporters are saying to critics of his Iran policy 

June 21, 2019

Source: What Trump officials and supporters are saying to critics of his Iran policy | The Times of Israel

Democrats have derided the administration for an incoherent strategy they say is escalating tensions. But the president’s allies insist everything is going exactly as planned

Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, testifies before a House subcommittee, June 19, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump has said he is “very prepared” for Iran.

“We’re looking at Iran,” he said Tuesday when a reporter asked him what he had planned beyond sending another 1,000 US troops to the area as tensions there appeared to be escalating. “We have a lot of things going with Iran. We have — we’re very prepared for Iran. We’ll see what happens. Let me just say this: We are very prepared. Regardless of what goes, we are very, very prepared.”

Trump was short on details, which has unnerved Democratic members of Congress and presidential candidates, who have derided Trump on the campaign trail for an incoherent foreign policy that they say is escalating tensions.

“I hope Iran chooses a different path,” Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), who is emerging as a frontrunner in her party’s presidential stakes, said Tuesday on Twitter. “But let’s be clear: Trump provoked this crisis. He has no strategy to contain it, he’s burned through our friends and allies, and now he’s doubling down on military force. We can’t afford another forever war.”

Republicans and Trump administration officials say their critics’ concerns are overwrought. They say that everything is going exactly as planned: Iran is reeling from increased sanctions and other forms of pressure, and is lashing out before it realizes the error of its ways.

Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaks at a hearing on ‘Nuclear Policy and Posture’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 28, 2019. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

“This administration has implemented an unprecedented pressure campaign with two primary objectives: first to deprive the Iranian regime of the money it needs to support its destabilizing activities, second to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to conclude a comprehensive and enduring deal,” Brian Hook, the top State Department official handling the Iran brief, said at congressional hearing Wednesday.

The following day, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it shot down an “intruding American spy drone” after it entered into the country’s territory. US officials said the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, not in Iranian territory.

In recent days, attackers damaged two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which the Trump administration says is the work of Iran; Iran said it would break the limits imposed on its stockpile of enriched uranium imposed by the 2015 Iran deal; and Trump committed the troops to the region.

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch (Florida), an Iran hawk within his party who opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, on Wednesday convened the oversight hearing by the Middle East subcommittee he chairs to address Trump’s Iran policy.

Rep. Ted Deutch speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 6, 2019. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

“I question its coherence, its impact on our international leadership, its effectiveness and, at times, its recklessness,” Deutch said.

Among the concerns Deutch outlined:

  • Mixed messages on regime change (Trump explicitly opposes it, yet his national security adviser, John Bolton, was a staunch regime change advocate before he took this job and has indicated it is the outcome he still favors).
  • A failure to bring allies on board since Trump pulled out of the Iran deal a year ago.
  • The fact that Iran seems to be escalating, not tamping down, tensions.

Here’s how the Trump administration and defenders of its Iran policy are explaining what’s going on.

It’s about deterrence

Hook told Deutch at the hearing that ramped-up sanctions and the threat of US engagement were weakening Iran and deterring it from any serious actions.

Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the same hearing that Trump’s reimposition of sanctions had impoverished the Iranian regime.

“In my view, the sanctions are working,” McCaul said. “It is crippling Iran, it is crippling their economy, they are cash-starved and Hezbollah,” Iran’s terrorist ally in Lebanon, “is now begging for cash. To me, these are all positive signs.”

US Rep. Michael McCaul (screenshot: YouTube)

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson (South Carolina), also on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said what the Trump administration was doing was no different than the sanctions and pressure that President Barack Obama used in the early part of this decade to get Iran to the negotiating table.

“It was the international sanctions regime against Iran that finally brought the Iranian regime to the table,” Wilson said at the hearing. “We must restore deterrence against Iran.”

No one wants war…

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” dismissed talk of war, saying Trump has demonstrated a repeated and forceful commitment against involving Americans in military conflicts.

“Oh, goodness, President Trump has said very clearly he doesn’t want to go to war,” Pompeo said when host Margaret Brennan asked if a US military strike was on the horizon.

The endgame is peace, Hook told Deutch at the hearing.

“President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have expressed very clearly our willingness to negotiate with Iran,” Hook said. “When the time is right, no one should be uncertain about our desire for peace or our readiness to normalize relations.”

…but the threat of war is needed to keep Iran off kilter

“President Trump has done everything he can to avoid war,” Pompeo told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this. The Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior.”

This isn’t Iraq

Democrats raise the specter of another long-term, open-ended and destructive war, of the kind President George W. Bush launched in 2003 with Iraq — the “forever war” Warren mentioned.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, DC, June 13, 2019. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Eli Lake, a Bloomberg News columnist, said invoking Iraq misses the mark. There is no sign that Trump is planning the scale of invasion that Bush led in 2003.

The better comparison, Lake said, was what was once known as “cruise missile” diplomacy — targeted attacks to send a message, not to launch a war. Lake said he had heard from Trump officials that one option under consideration was limited attacks on Iranian naval facilities.

“There was a lot of criticism of President Bill Clinton’s decision to strike targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in Africa,” Lake wrote. “But there was no credible argument then that the attacks were a pretext for a US invasion, and there isn’t one now that limited strikes against Iranian naval facilities will lead to a ground war.”

If anyone wants war, its Iran

A repeated theme in explanations of Trump’s Iran policy is that he is getting around to dealing with a regime that since its 1979 revolution has waged a nonstop war on US and allied interests through terrorist attacks, regional adventurism and pokes against US forces,

“I think you have to put it in the context of 40 years of behavior inside the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said on “Face the Nation.”

“This is consistent with how they have behaved previously. They did it when they were in the JCPOA [the 2015 nuclear deal]: They built their missile program; we relieved sanctions; they took American sailors hostage. This is a regime that has caused much trouble around the world.”

 

Congressional leaders urge caution on Iran, say Trump ‘listening’ 

June 21, 2019

Source: Congressional leaders urge caution on Iran, say Trump ‘listening’ | The Times of Israel

No specific response to drone shoot-down presented at briefing for lawmakers, but Democrats say they made it clear that the administration needs to avoid escalating tensions

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY, left), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined at center rear by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers urged caution against escalating tensions with Iran in a meeting with US President Donald Trump and his security team Thursday, after an American spy drone downed by Iran once again raised fears of war.

Congressional leaders came to the White House for an hour-long briefing in the Situation Room late Thursday with top national security officials, including Pompeo, Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he’ll nominate as Pentagon chief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said no specific options for a US response to the drone attack were presented at the meeting.

The downing of the huge, unmanned aircraft, which Iran portrayed as a deliberate defense of its territory rather than a mistake, was a stark reminder of the risk of military conflict between US and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have advocated hardline policies against Iran, but Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said “the president certainly was listening” when congressional leaders at the meeting urged him to be cautious and not escalate the already tense situation.

Democratic leaders in particular urged the president to work with US allies and avoid war.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he told Trump that conflicts have a way of escalating and “we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.”

US President Donald Trump bids farewell to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 20, 2019. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

Pelosi said Democrats made it clear to Trump at the meeting that White House would need authorization from Congress before launching military action against Iran.

Pelosi said earlier she didn’t think Trump wanted war with Iran and the American people have “no appetite” for it either.

The US needs to be “strong and strategic” about protecting its interests but “cannot be reckless,” she said.

Protesters hold signs spelling out ‘No War,’ outside the White House on Thursday June 20, 2019, in Washington, after President Donald Trump tweeted that ‘Iran made a very big mistake’ by shooting down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz in Iran. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Talking tougher, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Iran a “murderous regime” and said, “If they’re itching for a fight they’re going to get one.”

The senator also focused on the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying its leaders have refused to negotiate after Trump withdrew the US from the international agreement to limit Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk on the tarmac of al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 13, 2018 (Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning/US Air Force via AP)

Graham said it’s imperative that the US clearly tell the Iranians that any attempt to increase uranium enrichment will be seen as a “hostile act against the United States and our allies in Israel and will not go unanswered.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses,” and House Republicans on the Foreign Affairs, intelligence and Armed Services committees issued a statement using the same word Late Thursday, saying, “There must be a measured response to these actions.”

Trump himself earlier in the day appeared to attempt to dial back tensions, suggesting that shooting down the drone was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation of the tensions that have led to rising fears of open military conflict.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Asked earlier in the day about a US response to the attack, the president said pointedly, “You’ll soon find out.”

Shortly before Trump spoke, Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of US Central Command air forces in the region, took a more pointed view of the shoot-down in an area where Trump has blamed Iran for attacking shipping vessels.

An Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz, March 21, 2017. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said.

The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the US out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.

The other world powers who remain signed on to the nuclear deal have set a meeting to discuss the US withdrawal and Iran’s announced plans to increase its uranium stockpile for June 28, a date far enough in the future to perhaps allow tensions to cool.

Citing Iranian threats, the US recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.

 

After downing drone, Iran at UN accuses Washington of ‘provocative act’

June 21, 2019

Source: After downing drone, Iran at UN accuses Washington of ‘provocative act’ | The Times of Israel

Tehran claims it shot down surveillance aircraft over its territory and not international waters, as maintained by Pentagon; UN chief urges restraint

Illustrative: Iranian navy speed boats attend a drill in the sea of Oman, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011.(AP/IIPA, Ali Mohammadi)

Illustrative: Iranian navy speed boats attend a drill in the sea of Oman, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011.(AP/IIPA, Ali Mohammadi)

Iran on Thursday insisted that a US drone had entered its airspace in “full stealth mode,” calling the flight “provocative” and “very dangerous” as it justified its decision to shoot the aircraft down.

The shooting down of the surveillance drone in the strategic Strait of Hormuz Thursday morning raised arleady sky-high regional tensions and sent oil prices upward amid fears of open conflict breaking out.

The Pentagon has denounced the shoot-down as an “unprovoked attack” in international air space, claiming the RQ-4 Global Hawk was some 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Iran when destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.

But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council that the American drone was engaged in a “clear spying operation” in Iran’s airspace.

He called the flight a “blatant violation of international law” and said Iran acted under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows military action in self-defense “if an armed attack occurs.”

In this February 13, 2018, photo released by the US Air Force, an RQ-4 Global Hawk is seen on the tarmac of Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning/US Air Force via AP)

“While the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right… to take all appropriate necessary measures against any hostile act violating its territory, and is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea and air,” Ravanchi said.

“This is not the first provocative act by the United States against Iran’s territorial integrity.”

Late Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that parts of the drone had been recovered in Iranian territorial waters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) answers questions after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono at the foreign ministry in Tokyo on May 16, 2019. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif said.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it brought the drone down as it was “violating Iranian air space” over the waters of Hormozgan province.

Zarif provided coordinates to back the claim.

“At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace,” Zarif tweeted. “It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25°59’43″N 57°02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.”

“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.”

The drone downing came as Iran was already accused by Washington of carrying out explosions on oil tankers in the congested Hormuz area. Tehran denies being behind the attacks but has frequently threatened to block the sea lanes used by shipping to move much of the world’s oil exports.

Sailors stand on deck above a hole the US Navy says was made by a limpet mine on the damaged Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, anchored off Fujairah, UAE, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Fay Abuelgasim)

The commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, Sean Kido, said that a mine allegedly used in one of the attacks matched Iranian weaponry and that incriminating fingerprints had also been collected.

Guterres urged the sides to “exercise maximum restraint” and “avoid any action that could inflame the situation,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday.

“The world cannot afford a major conflict in that area,” Dujarric said.

US President Donald Trump initially struck a combative tone toward Iran, but as the overnight incident whipped up fears of open conflict between the United States and its declared foe Iran — sending crude oil prices up more than six percent — Trump moved swiftly to dial tensions back down, suggesting the drone may have been shot in error.

US President Donald Trump bids farewell to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 20, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

The president’s mixed message left the world unsure what Washington’s next move would be.

“You will find out,” Trump said, when asked about possible retaliation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu blasted “Iranian aggression” and said “Israel stands by the United States.”

But some Israeli officials were reportedly concerned over the apparent lack of resolve toward Iran being shown by the US president, according to Israel’s Channel 13 news, citing unnamed Israeli security sources.

Trump has repeatedly said he does not favor war with Iran unless it is to stop the country getting a nuclear weapon — something Iranian leaders insist they are not pursuing.

In this May 17, 2019, photo released by the US Navy, the USS Abraham Lincoln sails in the Arabian Sea near the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur, US Navy via AP)

But critics of the Trump administration say his policy of “maximum pressure” — including crippling economic sanctions, abandonment of a complex international deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear activities, and deployment of extra sea, air and land forces to the region — make war ever more likely.

In Washington, talk of war has become part of the already heated atmosphere as Trump’s reelection fight starts to gain traction.

A key Republican ally of Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham, said the president’s “options are running out.”

Asked if he believed the countries were nearing conflict, he replied: “I think anybody would believe that we’re one step closer.”

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the ‘National Persian Gulf Day’ in the Strait of Hormuz (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“They shot down an American asset well within international waters trying to assess the situation. What are you supposed to do?”

One of Trump’s biggest opponents, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, warned that “there’s no appetite for wanting to go to war in our country.”

Trump was elected in part on promises to end US involvement in wars in the Middle East, but the president has at the same time made clear his unquestioning support for Iran’s big rivals in the region — Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s arrival in the White House, alongside veteran Mideast hawks like his national security adviser John Bolton, has seen sharp deterioration in relations with Tehran.

Iranians burn an effigy of US President Donald Trump during a parade marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Tehran on May 31, 2019. (AFP)

Trump began last May by abandoning — and effectively wrecking — a 2015 international agreement on bringing Iran in from the diplomatic cold in exchange for verified controls on its nuclear industry.

That has prompted Iran to threaten it will stop observing restrictions agreed to under the deal on enrichment of uranium.

The threat has been seen as an effort to pressure European governments that want to save the nuclear deal to push back against Washington. The US State Department called that “extortion.”

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

 

Trump approved military action against Iran – And changed his mind 

June 21, 2019

Source: Trump approved military action against Iran – And changed his mind – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The US planes were in mid-air and ships were in position when the order to stand-down was given, Reuters reported.

BY JERUSALEM POST STAFF, REUTERS
 JUNE 21, 2019 07:35
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air B

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. . (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

US President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Friday against Iran in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned $130-million surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching the attacks, the New York Times said on Friday.
Trump had initially approved strikes on a handful of targets such as radar and missile batteries, the paper cited senior administration officials involved in, or briefed on, the deliberations, as saying.
The strikes were set to take place just before dawn on Friday to minimize risk to the Iranian military or to civilians, it added.

The New York Times

@nytimes

Breaking News: President Trump pulled back from strikes against Iran late Thursday, hours after approving them in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. dronehttps://nyti.ms/2XtXSpW 

“Let’s see what happens,” President Trump said Thursday after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone.

Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back

Military and diplomatic officials still expected a strike as of 7 p.m. Thursday in retaliation for Iran shooting down an unmanned American drone.

nytimes.com

Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles fired, when the order to stand down came, it cited one senior administration official as saying.
The abrupt reversal put a halt to what would have been Trump’s third military action against targets in the Middle East, the paper added, saying Trump had struck twice at targets in Syria, in 2017 and 2018.
However, it is not clear whether attacks on Iran might still go forward, the paper said, adding that it was not known if the cancellation of strikes had resulted from Trump changing his mind or administration concerns regarding logistics or strategy.

 

Israel said worried US may not respond decisively to drone downing 

June 21, 2019

Source: Israel said worried US may not respond decisively to drone downing | The Times of Israel

Officials concerned Iran may be emboldened after Trump appears to dismiss incident as a possible accident; White House invites House, Senate leaders for briefing

The USS Abraham Lincoln sails south in the Suez canal near Ismailia toward the Persian Gulf, May 9, 2019. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

The USS Abraham Lincoln sails south in the Suez canal near Ismailia toward the Persian Gulf, May 9, 2019. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

Israel officials are reportedly concerned over the prospect that the US will not response decisively to Iran’s downing of an American drone in the Persian Gulf, with some worried Iran will interpret this as an unwillingness to engage in military operations against it and grow more aggressive in the region.

A report on Channel 13 news Thursday, citing unnamed Israeli security sources, suggested officials interpret Iran’s decision to shoot down the drone as a test of the Trump administration’s resolve. The sources are reportedly worried about what they see as a hesitant response by the US thus far, which they fear could undermine the credibility of American warnings in future and encourage Tehran to up its attacks throughout the region.

The Israeli fears were sparked when Trump suggested in comments from the White House on Thursday that the incident might have been a mistake executed by someone in the Iranian military just being “loose and stupid.”

Trump added: “I find it hard to believe it was intentional.”

US President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 14, 2019. (AP /Jose Luis Magana)

The Israeli concerns will come up in discussions between the national security advisers of Israel and the US, who are set to meet in Jerusalem next week along with their Russian counterpart for talks on regional security and Iran.

Earlier Thursday, Trump responded to the downing of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone on Twitter, saying Tehran had made a “very big mistake” in shooting down the US spy aircraft near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

“This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you,” he told reporters at the White House.

Asked by a reporter if he plans to order a strike against Iran in response, Trump said: “You will find out.”

In this February 13, 2018, photo released by the US Air Force, an RQ-4 Global Hawk is seen on the tarmac of Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning/US Air Force via AP)

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his backing to Trump, appealing to “all peace-loving countries” to support American efforts to halt what he called escalating Iranian provocations.

Speaking Thursday at a reception in Jerusalem for New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Netanyahu said that “in the last 24 hours, Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us,” adding that “Israel stands by the United States and its military.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the NFL Super Bowl trophy during a meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in Jerusalem, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

In Washington, however, skepticism over US options abounded, with Democrats urging the White House not to be “reckless.”

The White House invited House and Senate leaders for a briefing with Trump on Thursday afternoon to discuss tensions with Iran.

In addition to House and Senate leaders of both parties, the White House extended the invitation to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence and Armed Services committees.

While the US military’s Central Command was adamant that the attack was “unprovoked” and had taken place “in international airspace,” Iranian officials claimed Thursday it had entered Iran’s airspace before it was fired upon.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, charged on Twitter that the drone had “violated Iranian airspace” and that parts of the aircraft were retrieved “in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.”

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

The US wages on Iran, has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory.

We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters.

We’ll take this new aggression to & show that the US is lying about international waters

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace. It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25°59’43″N 57°02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.

We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
The downing of the drone came as Iran was already accused by Washington — as well as allies Saudi Arabia, Germany and others — of having carried out bomb attacks on two oil tankers in the congested Hormuz area. Tehran denies having been behind the attacks but has frequently threatened in the past to block the sea lanes used by ships to move much of the world’s oil exports.

It also came after the US military alleged Iran had fired a missile last week at a drone that was responding to an attack on the two oil tankers, and blamed pro-Iran Shiite militias for half a dozen attacks on US installations in Iraq over the past two weeks.

In recent weeks, the US sped up the deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region, amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran following Trump’s decision to withdraw from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers a year ago. That move led to slapping biting US sanctions on Iran’s oil sector and other industries.

Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels.

After the drone was shot down, the commander of the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guard said that the act had sent “a clear message” to America.

In this undated photo released by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami speaks in a meeting in Tehran. (Sepahnews via AP)

In comments carried live on Thursday on Iranian state television, Gen. Hossein Salami also said that Tehran does “not have any intention for war with any country, but we are ready for war.”

Salami, speaking to a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, described the American drone as “violating our national security border.”

“Borders are our red line,” Salami said. “Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated.”