Trump Stopped Strike on Iran Because It Was ‘Not Proportionate’ – The New York Times

The dispute over the location of the drone when Iran shot it down Thursday morning continued for a second day. Iran’s government released photographs Friday morning of what it said were fragments of the high-altitude surveillance drone, saying that the pieces were retrieved from Iranian territorial waters. Iran has insisted it shot the drone down after it violated the country’s airspace.

To bolster its claims, Iran late Thursday released video of what it said was the moment its air defense system shot down the drone. The Defense Department countered with images of the drone’s flight path showing that it never entered Iranian airspace, though the images offered little context for an image that appeared to be the drone exploding in midair.

Still, there remained doubt inside the United States government over whether the drone, or another American surveillance aircraft, this one flown by a military aircrew, did violate Iranian airspace at some point, according to a senior administration official. The official said the doubt was one of the reasons Mr. Trump called off the strike — which could under international norms be viewed as an act of war.

The delay by United States Central Command in publicly releasing GPS coordinates of the drone when it was shot down — hours after Iran did — and errors in the labeling of the drone’s flight path when the imagery was released, contributed to that doubt, officials said.

A lack of provable “hard evidence” about the location of the drone when it was shot down, a defense official said, put the administration in an isolated position at what could easily end up being the start of yet another war with a Middle East adversary — this one with a proven ability to strike back.

There were virtually no European allies stepping forward on Thursday to back the Trump administration, heightening the fear that it could soon find itself in an intractable war with only Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel for allies, officials said.

After the military was ordered to stand down Thursday evening, the military was initially put on a 24-hour hold for possible strikes, a move that would have allowed Mr. Trump to quickly revive them, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions.

But the hold has been lifted,, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations about possible military actions. Mr. Trump could still launch a strike relatively quickly if he ordered the military to do so, the official said.

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