Trump approved strikes on Iran but aborted them at the last minute when told of casualties

President Donald Trump speaks in a Roosevelt Room event at the White House, May 9, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) 

BY CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but held off on ordering them when he was told there would be multiple casualties.

As late as 7 p.m. Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were expecting strikes following intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, The New York Times reported, citing multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

The president had approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries, officials told The Times.

The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.

Trump confirmed parts of the Times story on Twitter, saying he held off because he was told at the last minute there would be multiple casualties.

“We were cocked and loaded to retaliate last night on three different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump said.

The abrupt reversal put a halt to what would have been the president’s third military action against targets in the Middle East. Trump twice has targeted Syria, in 2017 and 2018.

Trump on Twitter suggested that strikes were still an option.

“I am in no hurry, our military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” he said. “Sanctions are biting and more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Thursday that it hit an “intruding American spy drone” after it entered the country’s territory, CNN reported, citing the state-run Press TV. A U.S. official confirmed to CNN that a drone had been shot down, but said the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, not in Iranian territory.

It is not clear when the drone was shot down.