The President approved a military strike against Iran on Thursday⏤with planes in the air and ships in position, the strike was pulled back at the last minute due to strategic operational and diplomatic reasons. It is believed that the following intelligence influenced the President’s and his national security officials decision and recommendation to “stand down.”
Thursday evening, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House in the Situation Room among the president’s top national security officials, congressional leaders, and senior administration officials.
The President signed off on the operational strike plans after consulting, again with national security and congressional officials, and military leaders reportedly expected the strike to play out. The attack was nixed as late as 7:00 pm local time, Thursday, with U.S. strike aircraft returning to base and carriers, as well as other U.S. military assets, including a guided-missile cruiser, were put on a 72-hour standby status.
Accordingly U.S. national security and military officials wanted to minimize the casualties, as always in the strike. As a result, the strike was planned before dawn on Friday morning Iran time and chose to the selected target radar and missile batteries in order to minimize collateral damage.
The President had initially approved a series of air and naval attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, to include radar and missile batteries. The operation was underway, but in its early stages the operation terminated and was called off – with stand down orders from the White House and the Pentagon. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired, bombs dropped or other ordnance expended when the order came to stand down.
We know that one of the targets of the planned strikes was the S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missile system, the Pentagon and USCENTCOM believed the system was that used in the U.S. drone attack. In a deception and PSYOP (psychological operations) effort, Tehran reported it had used its “3rd Khordad” air defense system, the Iranian equivalent of the Russian Buk system that was used to down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
Those of us with expertise in military operations know and understand that there is a continuous flow of intelligence that is collected and assessed up until the time weapon systems; missiles, bombs and other types of ordnance are expended.
We are assessing a likelihood of an OPSEC violation as a result of Senator Mitch McConnell who announced late on Thursday that military strikes were coming against suspected Iranian targets. A number of us assessed that because of the announcement by the Senator, the Iranians moved the targets since they were mobile type systems.
Such a decision to cancel would have come from intelligence and military operations commanders up through the chain of command and the intelligence agencies that such targets could no longer be attained. Hence, the order was given to terminate the mission as there is no reason to put crews in harm’s way.
As was already known throughout Thursday, U.S. Central Command confirmed in a statement: that a U.S. Navy drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11:35 p.m. GMT on June 19, 2019. USCENTCOM further noted Iranian regime reported that the drone was over Iranian airspace are false and deceptive propaganda.
The downing on Thursday of the unarmed U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drone, which can fly at altitudes of up to 60,000 ft, was the latest of a series of incidents that have raised tensions in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies. Earlier this month, a total of four oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman bringing the total to six in two separate attacks.
Over the past several months, tensions between the U.S. and Iran have dramatically escalated because of the impact of the tightening of sanctions, this was followed by the suspect attacks against the oil tankers by Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. accused Iran of the attacks and submitted video footage of what it claimed were Iranian troops detaching a limpet mine aboard a ship. There is also critical intelligence which backs up the U.S. position.
“If the Iranians come after US citizens, US assets, or US military, we reserve the right to respond with a military action, and they need to know that,” U.S. General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The Iranians believe that we won’t respond, and that’s why we’ve been very clear in our message.”
The operational strikes were recommended by the USCENTCOM and the Pentagon and were among the options presented to national security and senior administration officials. It was not clear if strikes would go ahead at a later date. The White House and Pentagon have not commented on the reports.
The president does not want war with Iran, but is not afraid to defend American interests if threatened or put in harm’s way. That said, it should be clear that the president has acted responsibly and with restraint but that the use of force against Iran is still on the table.