Iran could have shot down a P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft and killed Americans Thursday, but chose instead to target an unmanned Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk drone in order to avoid the possibility of all-out war, an Iranian general said Friday.
The P-8 anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare aircraft "was also violating our airspace and we could have downed it too," said Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards aerospace force, according to Iran's Fars news agency.
His forces refrained from targeting the P-8 and instead launched a missile at the $100 million-plus Global Hawk "because our aim was to warn the terrorist forces of the U.S.," Hajizadeh said, according to Fars.
Late Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif rejected U.S. charges that the Global Hawk was in international airspace over the Gulf, and said on Twitter that Iran had retrieved parts of the downed drone in Iranian territorial waters.
Iran's claims on having the Poseidon targeted and the downing of the Global Hawk raised the stakes on what the U.S. response would be to the escalating crisis in the Gulf.
In a series of tweets early Friday, President Donald Trump confirmed that he called off at the last-minute planned air strikes Thursday night on Iranian missile launch sites and radar installations believed to have been involved in targeting and downing the Global Hawk.
"We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights [sic] 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.
"I am in no hurry" to attack Iran, although the U.S. military was "ready to go," Trump said in repeating his warning that the red line for the U.S. would be renewed Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
"Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!" Trump tweeted.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.