The first thing to say here is that we have no means to know what really happened. At the very least, there are two possible hypotheses which could explain what took place:
1) a US provocation: it is quite possible that somebody in the US chain of command decided that Iran should be put under pressure and that having US UAV fly right next to, or even just inside, the international border of Iran would be a great way to show Iran that the US is ready to attack. If that is the case, this was a semi-success (the Iranians had to switch on their radars and attack the UAV which is very good for US intelligence gathering) and a semi-failure (since the Iranians were clearly unimpressed by the US show of resolve).
2) an Iranian provocation: yup, that is a theoretical possibility which cannot reject prima facie: in this scenario it was indeed the Iranians who blew up the two tankers last week and they also deliberately shot down the US UAV over international waters. The goal? Simple: to show that the Iranians are willing and ready to escalate and that they are confident that they will prevail.
Now, in the real world, there are many more options, including even mixes of various options. What matters is now not this, as much as Trump’s reaction:
Now, whether this was a US provocation or an Iranian one – Trump’s reaction was the only correct one. Why? Because the risks involved in any US “more than symbolic strike” would be so great as to void any rationale for such a strike in the first place. Think of it: we can be very confident that the Iranian military installations along the Persian Gulf and the southern border of Iran are highly redundant and that no matter how successful any limited US missile strike would have been, the actual military capabilities of Iran would not have been affected. The only way for the USA to effectively degrade Iranian capabilities would be to have a sustained, multi-day, attack on the entire southern periphery of Iran. In other words, a *real* war. Anything short of that would simply be meaningless. The consequences of such an attack, however, would be, in Putin’s words “catastrophic” for the entire region.
If this was an Iranian provocation, then it was one designed to impress upon the Empire that Iran is also very much “locked, cocked and ready to rock”. But if that is the case, there is zero change that any limited strike would achieve anything. In fact, any symbolic US attack would only signal to the Iranians that the US has cold feet and that all the US sabre-rattling is totally useless.
I have not said such a thing in many months, but in this case I can only admit that Trump did the right thing. No limited attack also makes sense even if we assume that the Empire has made the decision to attack Iran and is just waiting for the perfect time. Why? Because the longer the Iranian feel that an attack is possible, the more time, energy and money they need to spend remaining on very high alert.
The basic theory of attack and defense clearly states that the attacking side can gain as a major advantage if it can leave the other side in the dark about its plans and if the costs of being ready for a surprise attack are lower than the costs of being on high alert (those interested in the role and importance of surprise attack in the theory of deterrence can read Richard Betts’ excellent book “Surprise Attack: lessons for defense planning“).
How true is this story about Trump canceling a US attack at the last minute? It is impossible to know, but it appears to me that it is certain that the nutcase Neocons around Trump wanted the strike. But it is also plausible (if by no means certain) that at least two groups could have opposed such a strike:
1) The planners at CENTCOM and/or the Pentagon.
2) The planners for Trump’s reelection campaign.
The first ones would lobby against such a strike simply on the sound military grounds mentioned above. As for the second group, they probably decided (correctly) that if Trump starts a war with Iran which nobody has an “exit strategy” for – this could result in a huge blowback for the entire region and kill Trump’s reelection chances.
In this case, whether Trump listened to either group or simply followed his gut instincts, it appears likely that Trump (maybe a “collective Trump”) said “no, I don’t authorize this”. In this case, he does deserve our sincere praise and gratitude (irrespective of this past actions and inactions).
In conclusion, I want to show the kind of fantastically stupid, mindbogglingly ignorant and criminally irresponsible war propaganda the so-called “conservative” US media outlets have been spewing. Check out this one:
Hannity’s flagwaving logorrhea is exactly the kind of total nonsense which will sooner or later result in a major military disaster followed by a collapse of the Empire itself (for a detailed outline of how this is likely to happen, please read John Michael Greer superb book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming“). The sheer number of counter-factual and plainly stupid things Hannity manages to squeeze into just under 7 minutes is, by itself, a remarkable feat.
Yes, it is a sad day when one has to rejoice that the US President is marginally less stupid and less ignorant than one of the big talking heads on the US idiot box, but these are truly tragic and extremely dangerous times. And in such times, we have to be grateful for anything, no matter how minimal, which pushes back the inevitable war in the Middle-East (or even the world).
This being said, where do we go from here?
My personal guesstimate and almost baseless speculation is that the attack on the two tankers was probably an Israeli false flag operation which failed to achieve its intended results. Notice that the attack itself did not take place inside Strait of Hormuz, but south of it, in comparatively more open waters were an Israeli submarine or specialized surface vessel had less changes to be spotted by the Iranians and a much better chance of escape (for example, take a look at the 2nd map shown below and see for yourself how the depth gradient rapidly drops in the Gulf of Oman).
When this attacked failed to achieve the desired effect, the Israelis and their Neocon agents decided to engage into another provocation, this time using a US drone. I find it likely that in terms of location, the drone was flying inside Iranian airspace, but probably still over water allowing the Empire do claims it’s usual (and CIA-created) cop-out of “plausible deniability” in case of shootdown.
When the Iranians shot down the US UAV, a lot of folks in the USA probably wanted to find out exactly where this UAV was flying at the moment of intercept and since the Iranians probably have a lot of radar and EW data to prove that the UAV was inside the Iranian airspace the only safe course of action would have been to express all forms of protest but not to take unilateral (and, therefore illegal) action.
It is also remarkable that the US has requested that the case of the two tankers and the shooting down of the drone be discussed at the UNSC. Considering that both Russia and China will veto any resolution condemning Iran, this also appears to be a move to find a pretext not to go to war.
Of course, this might also be a strategic PSYOP destined to lull the Iranians into a false sense of security. If that is the plan, it will fail: the Iranians have lived with a AngloZionist bullseye painted on their heads ever since 1979 and they are used to live under constant threat of war.
In conclusion, I am currently very slightly optimistic (48-52%) that the US will not attack Iran in the short term.
In the long term, however, I consider that an AngloZionist attack is a quasi certainty.
PS: a pretty decent topographical map of the Strait of Hormu (source: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7422h.ct002935/)