Iran Downs American Reconnaissance Drone As Tensions Continue To Increase
As if the situation in the Persian Gulf weren't already tense enough, the Iranians shot down an American reconnaissance drone late yesterday
The situation in the Persian Gulf, which has been tense for weeks now amid apparent attacks on foreign tankers, an increased American military presence, and increasingly vitriolic language between Washington and Tehran, got tenser overnight when Iran shot down an American reconnaissance drone that it claimed was flying in Iranian air space:
Iran shot down a United States surveillance drone early Thursday, both nations said, but they differed on the crucial issue of whether the aircraft had violated Iranian airspace, in the latest escalation in tensions that have raised fears of war between the two countries.
Iranian officials said that the drone was over Iran, which the American military denied — an important distinction in determining who was at fault — and each side accused the other of being the aggressor.
Both said the downing occurred at 4:05 a.m. Iranian time on Thursday, or 7:35 p.m. on Wednesday in Washington. The drone “was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz,” the United States Central Command said in a statement. “This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
In the context of the recent exchange of threats between Washington and Tehran, an Iranian attack on an American aircraft — even an unmanned drone — adds another potential flash-point to the growing list of recent clashes between Iran and the United States.
It comes just days after American officials blamed Iran for recent attacks on shipping tankers that also took place near the Strait of Hormuz, the vital waterway for much of the world’s oil, an accusation that Iran has denied. None of the ships that were hit were American-operated.
Flying a drone into Iranian airspace was an “aggressive and provocative” move by the United States, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to Iranian media.
Hossein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, said crossing the country’s border was “our red line,” the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. He said the shooting down the drone was evidence of “how the Iranian nation deals with its enemies.”
“We are not going to get engaged in a war with any country, but we are fully prepared for war,” Mr. Salami said at a military ceremony in Sanandaj, Iran, according to a translation from Press TV, a state-run news outlet. “Today’s incident was a clear sign of this precise message, so we are continuing our resistance.”
Press TV said the drone had flown over Iranian territory unauthorized, and reported that it had been shot down in the province of Hormozgan, along the country’s southern coast on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
Both the United States and Iran identified the aircraft as an RQ-4 Global Hawk, a surveillance drone made by Northrop Grumman.
American officials said last week that Iran had fired a surface-to-air missile at a drone over the Gulf of Oman, on the same day that two tanker ships were attacked. United States officials have blamed Iran for the attacks on the tankers, as well as similar attacks in May against four tankers near the United Arab Emirates, a charge that has been strenuously denied in Tehran.
More from The Washington Post:
Iran shot down a U.S. naval surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian and U.S. officials said Thursday, adding to weeks of tensions in the Persian Gulf region amid growing concerns of a wider military confrontation.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement that it targeted the drone — which it identified as an RQ-4 Global Hawk — inside Iranian airspace over the southern province of Hormozgan, next to the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Central Command confirmed the incident Thursday but denied the aircraft was in Iranian airspace.
“U.S. Central Command can confirm that a U.S. Navy . . . aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz,” a Centcom spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, said in a statement.
He said the drone, a RQ-4A Global Hawk, was shot down in the early hours of the morning Wednesday.
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” he said. “This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
The Revolutionary Guard’s chief commander, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, called the downing of the drone “a clear message to America.”
A U.S. official confirmed the episode to the Associated Press and said the drone was targeted by an Iranian surface-to-air missile in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Nearly a quarter of the world’s oil passes through the waterway, which connects Middle East energy producers to markets around the globe.
“Our borders are Iran’s red line, and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Salami said Thursday in remarks carried by Iranian state television.
“Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran,” he said
Iran’s Mashregh news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guard, reported that the drone was shot down by the Guards’ Sevom Khordad missile defense system.
The Guard said in an updated statement that the U.S. drone had “left a base in the southern Persian Gulf” and was heading toward Iran’s Chabahar port “in full secrecy, violating the rules of international aviation.”
“We warn of the consequences of such illegal and provocative measures,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, state TV reported.
The Navy, who was apparently operating the drone in question, says that the drone was operating over international waters, while the Iranians claim that it had wandered into Iranian air space. The reality most likely is that the drone was indeed operating over international waters, but in an area that Iran has claimed as part of its territory even though the area is well beyond the internationally recognized twelve-mile distance from shore.
Whatever the truth is, though, shooting down the drone is just the latest development in what has become an increasingly tense international situation in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen several tankers attacked under circumstances that remain somewhat murky. In response to this, the United States has increased its military readiness in the area by sending in the carrier battle group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln and increasing the presence of American troops by some 2,500 troops, although it’s worth noting that most of these troops are not combat troops but instead consist of engineers and other support personnel.
It’s also worth noting that while this latest Iranian action is an act of aggression, even if the drone was over Iranian airspace, should not necessarily lead the United States to up the ante any further than it already has. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t respond at all to actions like this, of course, but it does mean that we need to keep them in perspective. Had the Iranians opened fire or taken down a manned aircraft, the situation would obviously be different. Drones, however, are replaceable notwithstanding the fact that they cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They aren’t necessarily worth increasing tensions needlessly in an already tense situation.
This situation is also a reminder of the fact that taking on Iran would be a far different manner than taking on Iraq was in 2003 or even 1991. Compared to Iraqi forces during those wars, Iran’s military is much larger, more sophisticated, and better trained. The same is true of the Revolutionary Guard, which is essentially an armed force all its own. As this incident notes, the country also has a much more sophisticated air and naval defense system than Iraq ever had. Taking military action against Iran would not be cost-free and even a limited strike could lead to a wider conflict that would have serious implications for the entire Persian Gulf area and, most importantly, oil prices and the world economy.
Good thing we have a President we can trust, right?