On Thursday night, President Trump responded to an Iranian attack on a U.S. aerial asset by ordering the military to gear up for an attack against Iran but the president gave a ‘stand-down’ order with just a few hours to spare.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the commander-in-chief order strikes on Iranian military targets including radar and missile batteries. The NYT cited “officials” as saying that as late as 7:00 PM, “planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down.” Had they not been canceled, the U.S strikes would have taken place before dawn on Friday morning. The report said it was unclear why the strike was aborted.
The aborted strike was in response to Iran shooting down a $130 million Global Hawk surveillance drone on Thursday morning with a surface-to-air missile over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran claimed the drone was in Iranian airspace but the U.S. asserts that at the time of the attack, the drone was in international space.
The Strait is a vital oil shipping route linking Middle East oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and has been at the heart of regional tensions for decades. 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, the shipping lane is just two miles wide in either direction and is highly susceptible to attack. About one-fifth of the entire global consumption of oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. It is also the route used for nearly all the liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by the world’s biggest LNG exporter, Qatar. The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, is tasked with protecting the commercial ships in the area.
Last week, two oil tankers were attacked with Limpet mines attached magnetically to their hulls. After an investigation, the U.S. blamed Iran for the attacks.
On May 12, four oil tankers — two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati — were damaged in still unexplained attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates (UAE). U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iranian naval mines were almost certainly behind those attacks but declined to provide specific evidence that Tehran was involved. A UAE investigation into the incident concluded that the explosions were mostly caused by Limpet mines attached by highly-trained divers deployed by small, fast boats.
In addition to the tensions and attacks, Iran announced its intention to soon breach one of the key limits it had agreed to in the multinational agreement signed in 2015 intended to limit its nuclear program.