Iran Defiance Stops Trump’s Strike Plan

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WASHINGTON — Iran said Friday it had “indisputable” evidence a US drone it downed had violated its airspace, as reports emerged in the US that President Donald Trump had approved then scrapped retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets.

The downing of the drone — which Washington insists was above international waters but Iran says was within its airspace — has seen tensions between the two countries spike further after a series of attacks on tankers the US has blamed on Tehran.

Under pressure to respond to the high-stakes incident near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Trump issued orders for retaliatory strikes on a limited number of Iranian targets, the New York Times reported.

The US was planning to hit “a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries” Thursday evening, the newspaper said, citing senior administration officials, but the plan was suddenly aborted in its early stages.

Planes were in the air and ships were in position when the order to stand down came, the Times cited one unidentified administration official as saying.

The shootdown marked the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets and came amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, unleashed by Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Since then, the US has deployed more military assets to the Gulf, as well as thousands of more troops. 

A senior Iranian military commander later said Iran has refrained from shooting down a US plane with 35 people on board that was accompanying the American spy drone.

Revelation came as Iran released the first photos of the wreckage of the US spy drone shot down early Thursday.

“Along with the US drone, there was also an American P-8 plane with 35 people on board,” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Division of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), told reporters on Friday.

“This plane also entered our airspace and we could have targeted it, but we did not because our purpose behind shooting down the American drone was to give a warning to terrorist American forces,” Hajizadeh added.

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‘Catastrophic clash’

The reports came just hours after IRGC said it shot down an unmanned US aircraft after it flew into Iranian airspace.

The drone that was struck by a surface-to-air missile was in international territory at the time it was brought down, US officials later said. Trump accused Iran of making a “very big mistake”, but also suggested the move may have been unintentional.

On Friday, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran had “indisputable” evidence that the aircraft violated its airspace.

The IRGC Aerospace Force displayed parts of the doomed drone on Friday noon, refuting earlier claims by the US that the UAE was flying over international waters, and had not violated the Iranian airspace.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave the exact coordinates where he said the drone was shot down, adding Iran has retrieved sections of the unmanned aerial vehicle from its territorial waters.

The Swiss envoy, whose country represents the US interests in Iran, was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry on Friday morning, and handed over an official note which he said will be immediately deliverd to the US.

In a meeting with an Iranian foreign ministry official, Swiss Ambassador Markus Leitner was asked to tell the US that the Islamic Republic is not after a war with any country, but the Iranian Armed Forces will give a “crushing response to any aggression.”

The Swiss envoy was told that the US will be held accountable for the consequences of such provocative measures.

“The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will show restraint as long as possible to preserve the security and tranquility of the sensitive region of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

“But if the other side takes a provocative and unconsidered move, they will not hesitate to give a reciprocal response with unpredictable consequences,” the Iranian official noted, saying the response will be detrimental to all parties involved.

On Thursday, Trump told reporters “Iran made a big mistake” and his “country will not stand for it”. When asked if he would respond militarily, Trump said, “You’ll soon find out.”

FAA bars Gulf flights

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The downing of the $130m drone was also the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf since mid-May, including unexplained explosions on six tankers that the US blamed on Iran.

Tehran vehemently denied involvement and suggested the US may be responsible as a casus belli to launch a war on the Islamic Republic. 

The escalation of words and actions has raised fears that a miscalculation or a further rise in friction could push the US and Iran into open conflict.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency notice barring US airlines from flying in airspace over parts of the Gulf because of the “heightened military activities and increased political tensions”.

Analysts, meanwhile, warned the downing of the drone and its subsequent fallout could result in a major conflict erupting in the region.

“This is a 1914 moment in the region – a single incident can result into a catastrophic clash in the region,” Ali Vaez, Iran project director for the Belgium-based International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“That would not just involve the Iranians and the Americans, but the entire region would be put on fire,” Vaez added.

An officials from Saudi Arabia said on Friday that Riyadh supported the US’ “maximum pressure campaign on Iran”, adding it discussed the latest “Iranian attacks” with US envoy for Iran Brian Hook during a meeting between the pair.

“We affirmed the kingdom’s support …  which came as a result of continuing Iranian hostility and terrorism,” Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi’s deputy defence minister, said in a tweet.

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.”

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”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has close relations with Iran’s leadership, said US military retaliation “would be a disaster for the region.”


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