President Trump backed away Wednesday from potential war with Iran, indicating he would not respond militarily to the launch of more than a dozen ballistic missiles at bases housing American troops, as the United States and Iran blamed each other for provoking the most direct conflict between the two adversaries since Iran seized American diplomats in 1979. The war footing that took hold last week after Trump approved the targeted killing of a senior Iranian military commander he accused of plotting to kill Americans appeared to ease by mutual agreement, following days of chest-thumping in both Washington and Tehran and what Iran called its rightful response.
President Donald Trump has stepped back from new military action against Iran after its missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops caused no casualties but he told Iran he would tighten already crippling U.S. sanctions. Trump and Iranian officials looked to defuse a crisis that on Wednesday had threatened to spiral into open conflict after the killing of a prominent Iranian general in Iraq on Jan. 3 in a U.S drone strike was followed by Iran's retaliatory attack.
Donald Trump took the biggest risk of his presidency by killing a top Iranian general, and for the moment the bet is paying off. The question now is: for how long? A retaliatory Iranian missile attack on two U.S. bases in Iraq early Wednesday caused no casualties, allowing the president an opportunity to stand down from what looked like an escalation toward war. "We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place," Trump said in televised remarks to the nation Wednesday.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Two earthquakes struck Iran near the Bushehr nuclear power plant Wednesday morning, during a tumultuous day in the country. A 4.9-magnitude quake occurred around 9 a.m., local time, followed by a 4.5-magnitude aftershock 30 minutes later. Iranian state media reported there were no casualties and rescue teams were at the scene in the southern part of the country. The first earthquake hit at a depth of about 6 miles, according to the United States Geological Survey. People who felt the earthquake around the site reported light shaking.
The killing of high-ranking Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the United States last week has heightened tension between the two countries and prompted Iran to retaliate with a missile strike on bases in Iraq housing American troops. The U.S. and Iraq say there were no casualties from the strikes. In a televised address, President Trump said Iran "appears to be standing down" after the retaliatory attack, but as both countries remain on alert, what threat does Iran actually pose to American interests at home and abroad?
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The situation in Iran is bad for business. And every new threat makes the situation even more difficult for entrepreneurs who have made big investments there. The withdrawal of the USA from the nuclear agreement and Trump's economic sanctions have dashed many business hopes.
Two major tanker operators, including Saudi Arabia's state-controlled Bahri, suspended crossings in the Strait of Hormuz Wednesday, as the economic fallout from rising U.S.-Iranian tensions, including an Iranian military strike on U.S. bases in Iraq, rippled throughout the region. Hours after Iran's attacks, the economic reverberations jolted the Persian Gulf region. Strikes between the U.S. and Iran now threaten to disrupt vital travel and trade routes in what would be a devastating blow for Gulf countries seeking to diversify from a dependence on oil.
Global stock markets and oil prices rebounded Thursday as anxiety over potential U.S.-Iranian conflict eased. London and Frankfurt opened higher and Tokyo gained more than 2%. Shanghai and Hong Kong also advanced. Markets sank Wednesday after Tehran launched missiles at bases housing Americans in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of an Iranian general. Anxiety subsided after reports indicated no Americans were killed and President Donald Trump said Iran "appears to be standing down."
Airlines are facing higher fuel bills as they reroute flights to avoid airspace over Iran and Iraq due to recent heightened tension between Washington and Tehran, adding further financial pressure to an industry already contending with the prolonged grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX jets. Germany's Lufthansa AG (LHAG.DE), Air France-KLM SA (AIRF.PA), Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIAL.SI) and Malaysia Airlines have redirected flights from airspace in the region after Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. A Ukraine jetliner also crashed in Tehran, although the cause is not yet known.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The alert came to the White House shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, a flash message from American spy agencies that officials sometimes call a "squawk." In the coming hours, it warned, an Iranian attack on American troops was almost certain. A blizzard of potential threats had already come throughout the day - of attacks with missiles and rockets, of terrorist strikes against Americans elsewhere in the Middle East, even one warning that hundreds of Iran-backed militia fighters might try to assault Al Asad Air Base, a sprawling compound in Iraq's western desert.
President Trump moved Wednesday to de-escalate hostilities with Iran, signaling no new U.S. military strikes following an Iranian missile barrage on Iraqi bases housing American and allied military forces that resulted in no casualties. "Iran appears to be standing down," Mr. Trump said in a televised address on Wednesday, his first public reaction beyond a tweet Tuesday evening after missiles were fired from Iran. Hours after Mr. Trump spoke, Iraqi security officials said two rockets landed in Baghdad's Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions are located.
U.S. President Donald Trump may have narrowly escaped immersing the United States in a broad war with Iran, at least for now, after his order to kill a top Iranian general sparked a crisis and prompted criticism at home and abroad. When Iranian missiles rained down on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on Tuesday night, a sense of foreboding swept the White House, with Trump and his national security aides shuttling in and out of the Situation Room to monitor developments as they unfolded.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday the United States has received intelligence that Iran has asked its allied militias not to attack U.S. targets. "We're receiving some encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages to those very same militias not to move against American targets or civilians, and we hope that that message continues to echo," Pence told CBS News in an interview.
The United States told the United Nations on Wednesday that the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last week was self-defense and vowed to take additional action "as necessary" in the Middle East to protect U.S. personnel and interests. Iran retaliated on Wednesday for Soleimani's death by firing missiles at military facilities housing U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. President Donald Trump said no Americans were hurt, soothing fears that Soleimani's death and the Iranian response could spark a wider conflict in the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran. In a statement, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.
Commercial airlines are rerouting flights throughout the Middle East to avoid potential danger during heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. Jumbled schedules could affect as many as 15,000 passengers per day, lengthen flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes, and severely bruise the bottom line for airlines, industry analysts said. There is anxiety that the conflict between the longtime foes could intensify following Iranian ballistic missile strikes Wednesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops.
The US says it is "ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations" with Iran following the countries' exchange of hostilities. In a letter to the UN, the US justified the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as an act of self-defence. Iran has retaliated by firing missiles at air bases housing US forces in Iraq causing no casualties. It also told the UN it was an act of self-defence. Gen Soleimani was widely held as being Iran's second most senior official.
Last spring, a former Pentagon official named Ilan Goldenberg wrote an article for Foreign Affairs called "What a War with Iran Would Look Like." It included: Between the United States and Iran there is a distinct potential for misunderstanding, not least when both actors are making decisions under time pressure, on the basis of uncertain information, and in a climate of deep mutual distrust. Iran may mistake a one-off strike by the United States as the beginning of a significant military campaign that requires an immediate and harsh response.
A targeted killing of a mass murderer is a horrible opportunity to waste. On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone commendably killed the mastermind of Iranian aggression, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and upended Iranian assumptions about declining American power in the Middle East. But this will, by itself, neither restore U.S. deterrence nor roll back Iranian power. Instead, the strike should be the opening salvo in a concerted strategy to bring about regime collapse in Tehran.
I remember this from my childhood, that we fled the Iran-Iraq war in 1983 when I was 6 years old, that we found safety in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, that my father would come home in the evenings from work, exhausted, sunburnt, and he would immediately turn on a radio station that broadcast BBC news in Farsi. He would pace back and forth in the small living space of our apartment, his hands clasped behind his back, as the reporter talked about the situation in Iran, then named the neighborhoods that had been recently bombed.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
American military and intelligence officials were stunned at the precision, scale and sheer boldness of what they later concluded was an Iranian attack. Four months ago, a swarm of low-flying armed drones and cruise missiles struck oil tanks in the central hub of the Saudi petroleum industry, catching Washington by surprise and temporarily knocking out 5 percent of the world's oil supply. Almost no country in the region - Israel may be the exception - could have defended against it.
The Iranian strikes on Iraqi military bases that housed U.S. troops, along with the Saudi missile-and-drone attack attributed to Iran in September, demonstrated a missile arsenal with a sophistication, accuracy and reach capable of threatening and deterring the country's adversaries across the region. Early on Wednesday local time, more than a dozen ballistic missiles were launched from Iran and struck two Iraqi bases-Al Asad in the west and Erbil in the north-in retaliation for the U.S. killing last week of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The recent flare-up between the U.S. and Iran has thrust Tehran's military capabilities into the spotlight. While tensions appear to be de-escalating in the region, experts have been weighing the potential threat posed by Iran's drone firepower. Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Fox News that Iran has been using drones for decades. "Iran began its drone program during the Iran-Iraq war with UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] such as the Mohajer and Ababil series," he explained via email. "Iran is very proud of its success in creating an indigenous drone industry and pioneering its own UAVs."
CONGRESS & IRAN
Trump administration officials failed to convince Democratic U.S. lawmakers, and some Republicans, on Wednesday that an imminent threat had justified the killing of a top Iranian military commander, and congressional Democrats scheduled a vote on legislation to rein in the president's ability to wage war. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley and CIA Director Gina Haspel held classified briefings for all 535 members of Congress to discuss President Donald Trump's decision to order a drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
There was the family of a prominent Iranian writer who had emigrated to Canada a few years ago. There was a newlywed couple. And there were international students and children. The victims of a crash on Wednesday morning of a Boeing 737-800 included passengers and crew members from at least seven countries, among them at least 63 Canadians. It is unclear what caused the crash. Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 went down amid tensions between the United States and Iran over the American drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Wednesday he had spoken to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif following the crash of an Ukrainian airliner in Iran. "Agreed to coordinate further actions of our investigation groups closely to determine the cause of the terrible plane crash," he tweeted. A Ukrainian airliner crashed and burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran early on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
Iran's declaration on Wednesday that a missile attack on Iraq had "concluded proportionate measures" against the United States in response to the killing of its most important general may amplify the Trump administration's attention on computer systems as the next battlefield in its showdown with Tehran. Cybersecurity experts and government officials are already monitoring an uptick of malicious activity by pro-Iranian hackers and social media users that they believe are harbingers of more serious computer attacks from Tehran, including possible efforts aimed at destroying government databases.
Hackers looking to breach US computer networks sharply intensified their efforts following the death of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, but have had limited success, according to internet security researchers and state government officials. Soon after the strike that killed Soleimani, Iran-based attempts to hack federal, state and local government websites jumped 50% - and then continued to accelerate, said network security company Cloudflare.