Brigadier Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which shot down the American drone, said last week that the Iranians could have shot down a P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance plane carrying Americans, but refrained from doing so. Mr. Trump himself has drawn a distinction between an attack on a drone and any on American military aircraft with crew members on board.
General Hajizadeh, who also oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, was among the eight commanders listed by the Treasury Department in sanctions announcement on Monday. In April, Mr. Trump announced he was designating the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, an action that imposes financial and travel limits on the group.
American officials have blamed Iran for two separate sets of explosions on six oil tankers around the Strait of Hormuz, saying Iran is trying to show its capabilities and increase global oil prices in retaliation for the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Iranian officials have denied responsibility. Last week, after the Iranian military shot down an American drone, the two nations debated whether the drone was in Iranian territory or over international waters.
The downing of the drone prompted Mr. Trump to order a missile strike on Iranian military sites last Thursday, but he pulled back at the last minute after hours of debate, and instead opted to launch a cyber attack. The most prominent Iran hawks in the administration, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton, had pushed for the missile strikes.
Mr. Pompeo also advocated in the White House Situation Room on Thursday for continuing sanctions and seeing whether Iran would capitulate to demands as the policy of cutting off all oil revenues, announced in late April, takes full effect.
Iranian leaders say the Trump administration is waging economic warfare on their nation, and analysts say the sanctions campaign, which has been done with no substantial diplomatic outreach, strengthens the standing of hard-line officials in Tehran who argue for taking retaliatory measures. The Trump administration has imposed more than 1,000 specific sanctions on Iran since the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018, according to the State Department.
The rollout of sanctions and attempt to end all oil exports, along with an insistence by Mr. Pompeo that Tehran meet 12 expansive demands mostly unrelated to the nuclear program, “set a spark to the escalatory cycle we’re seeing today,” said Dalia Dassa Kaye, a Middle East expert at RAND Corporation, a research group in California.