- President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran, but later canceled the strikes after the operation was reportedly underway.
- Trump ordered the strike after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday.
- Iran said the drone was in their airspace, but the U.S. claimed it was in international waters.
- In a series of tweets, Trump explained that he called off the attack after being informed that it would cause 150 casualties.
Iran Strike Ordered, Then Cancelled
President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran after the country shot down a U.S. surveillance drone Thursday, but then called off the operations at the last moment.
In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump said he called off the strikes after he was told they would cause 150 casualties, which was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
Trump claimed that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded to retaliate” against Iran, but he stopped the attacks “10 minutes before the strike” was set to launch.
….proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
A senior administration official who spoke to the New York Times, which first reported that Trump had canceled the strikes, said that the operation was well underway when Trump decided to call it off.
“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the Times reported.
The U.S. Drone and Iran
Earlier on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that had flown into Iran’s airspace.
U.S. Central Command confirmed shortly after that the drone had in fact been shot down, but argued that it was in international airspace.
The commander of the IRGC’s aerospace division said in an interview with Iran’s state-run broadcaster on Friday that Iran had given “warnings” to the drone before they shot it down.
“When it did not redirect its route and continued flying toward and into our territory, we had to shoot it,” he said. “Our national security is a red line.”
U.S. Central Command disputed that version of events, saying in a statement that the incident was “an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
Iran on Thursday released footage it said showed that the U.S. drone was shot down in Iranian territory.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also shared GPS coordinates that place the drone eight miles off Iran’s coast, which would place the drone inside the 12 nautical miles from the shore that legally belong to Iran under international law.
“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif wrote in the tweet. “We’ll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters.”
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.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 20, 2019
We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down. pic.twitter.com/pJ34Tysmsg
The Defense Department responded by providing a rendered map of the drone’s flight path, which they argued showed that the drone never entered Iranian airspace.
Trump’s decision to strike Iran and his subsequent reversal is another example of the president’s hesitancy to start a conflict in the Middle East, even as more hawkish officials in his administration push for a more confrontational approach.
While meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Thursday, Trump spoke to journalists about Iran. When asked if the U.S. intended on striking Iran in retaliation, Trump responded, “You’ll soon find out.”
“They’re going to find out they made a very big mistake,” he said. “I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did […] it could have been someone loose and stupid.”
He also said that it made a “big, big difference” that the drone was unmanned.
According to the New York Times, Trump’s national security advisers were divided on whether or not to respond militarily to Iran. Senior administration officials told the Times that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and C.I.A Director Gina Haspel were in favor of a military response.
However, top Pentagon officials worried that airstrikes could cause risk escalation, as striking Iran could be considered an act of war under international norms.
Pompeo and Bolton have often alluded to responding to Iran with military force, even as Trump has reiterated that he would prefer other alternatives.
Escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. were further complicated in recent weeks. On Monday, Iran announced that it would exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days, if European nations did not do more to alleviate U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran.
Last Thursday, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers off the coast of Oman. Iran denied the accusations.
Pompeo responded to the attacks during an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, where he said that the U.S. had not ruled out military action. “The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome,” he said.
In contrast, Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends last Friday that while Iran did attack the tankers, he was not looking for war, and instead favored engagement with the Iranian leadership.
“I’m ready when they are,” Trump said. “Whenever they’re ready, it’s O.K. In the meantime, I’m in no rush.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”