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?

Bueller? Bueller?

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Iran, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    We have been unnecessarily provoking them, so I don’t see how they can be blamed for this.

    John Bolton was one of the “Project for a New American Century” idiots who got us into Iraq for no reason. 4,000 dead troops and a couple trillion dollars later, plus the resulting formation of ISIS – who we are still fighting, and he is back at it with Iran. Only Iran is far more dangerous than Iraq was. Why is America going to stand by and let this idiocy happen again…but worse this time? When did we decide we should have tragically stupid people in charge of critically important things?

  2. Lit3Bolt says:

    Iran knows we don’t have to will or the means at this moment in time to actually invade and force regime change. We can try air strikes or missile strikes of limited efficacy, in exchange for shutting down the Strait of Hormuz for who knows how long and stirring up Revolutionary Guard terrorism and Hamas. If things escalate even further then we’ll see an orgy of international terrorism to make 9/11 look like a firecracker.

    The reason Iran is acting like it’s back is against the wall is because they know Trump is an easily manipulated idiot and think that the Israelis, Saudis, and Emirates are ganging up on them. Russia of course is delighted by the thought of dragging the US into another useless proxy war and is egging everyone on. Bonesaw is tired of his long war with Yemen dragging on and wants to punish Iran for propping up Yemen. And of course every leader at home is scared shitless of losing power domestically, so they have to prop themselves up by beating the war-drum.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    And Tiny vacillates from bluster to shooting at tankers isn’t a big thing.

    Pompeo and Bolton are doing their damnedest to go to war win Iran and Tiny is conflicted. Avoiding foreign entanglements was one of the few things that Trump seemed to truly believe in, and now Pompeo and Bolton in cahoots with Bibi and the Saudis have brought him to the threshold of war. Just as he starts his re-election campaign.

    And in other news, the House has voted to rescind AUMF.

  4. Franklin says:

    Putin is laughing his ass off.

  5. Timothy Watson says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: And Iran wouldn’t be half the problem it is now if Saddam Hussein had been left in power and allowed to use his bluff about chemical weapons to keep Iran at bay.

  6. Slugger says:

    Wars start when countries want to start wars. Airliners full of people have been shot down without war; minor events in the Gulf of Tonkin have led to war. Clearly, the American people do not thirst for a war with Iran. However, the President can shape public opinion. This President by endless incontinent tweeting has made people more immune to being led by the nose. Thanks, Mr. Trump.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    If the drone was within Iranian airspace, that’s the risk you take. If not the Iranians are escalating their efforts. The Chinese are more at risk from closing the Straits of Hormuz than we are.

  8. Robert C says:

    @Timothy Watson:
    Iran really isn’t the problem in the ME. It’s KSA and UAE and the Sunni extremism they promote and fund.

  9. inhumans99 says:

    This is Iran showing proof of concept that hey if we can take down what would be considered a fairly nimble flying object made in America than we can take down other things too. Iran wants us to know hitting them will not be a cake walk.

    Everybody remembers that famous image from the Iraq War of the night sky lit up with tracer bullets trying to take down U.S. missiles, jets, etc., but all it really was is Iraq preening in front of the camera as the image looked neat but they knew their actions would amount to nothing against the Alliance forces.

    Obviously, this action of Irans’ is not nothing. It is them preening for the cameras and not looking so foolish when all is said and done because well, they took down the drone. I think Iran is frustrated that they have to take actions like this to point out that surprise, we can fight back if you try to attack and not just by shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, rightfully frustrated as I think Americans need to be quickly educated that this would not be a two week war where we can declare victory and throw a parade after our troops are home.

    That is all this is…proof of concept that Iran can fight back, Pompeo knows this, Bolton knows this, our President knows this, but Bolton and Pompeo are still happy to have other people die for the hill they are willing to fight for. Our President may complain about how hard the job is and how everyone is against him, and yet he clearly wants another 4 years in office. Images two years from now of the conflict in Iran on the nightly news and discussions about how does the U.S. pull itself out of the recession we are experiencing are not going to get him re-elected.

    The GOP can try to spin things to their benefit as much as they want but even they do not 100% control the narrative and they know it.

  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Remember that the Obama Doctrine was “don’t do dumb shit”.
    Remember that Dennison’s Doctrine is “do the opposite of Obama”.

  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Funny that Iran was complying with the JCPOA and everything was fine. then Dennison instituted his policy changes and just like that we are on war footing.
    Funny that crossings at the Southern Border were at decade-low numbers, then Dennison instituted his policy changes and we have a humanitarian crisis where kids are put in cages and some are killed.
    It’s almost like the POTUS doesn’t know what he is doing.

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    @Robert C:

    The biggest difference is that KSA and UAE aren’t threatening Israel with destruction or refining uranium. I do not think that pursuing Israel’s foreign policy goals is something we should be doing but we have been doing just that for some time, over the last several administrations.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    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.

    This administration being what it is, the reality is more probably that the drone was shot down in Iranian territory and may have been put up to provoke the attack. But go ahead and believe in the goodness and honesty of Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo if you wish.

  14. Robert C says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    I live in America, not Israel. Therefore, our ME FP should serve America’s interests not Israel’s . Israel needs to learn to play nice with its neighbors. The US working with barbaric countries like KSA is Not what’s best for America.

    And FWIW, Israel and Israel supporters (Sheldon Adelson) have been threatening destruction of Iran for years.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    I think that Adelson et al are doing something very stupid by trying to get the U.S. to attack Iran. It’s not going to be a cakewalk–IIRC the military war-gamed going up against Iran back in early 2000s and decided that Iran would not be a pushover the way Iraq was.

    Straits of Hormuz closure to start with, mischief by Iranian-related groups elsewhere….chances are high that we would immediately be seeing an economic shock then continued economic problems in the US even if we could avoid physical attacks on the US.

    If the average American gets the impression that the U.S. has undergone economic collapse and become embroiled in yet another Mideastern war as a catspaw of Israel and Saudi Arabia, I think we’re likely to see a huge wave of anti-Arab and Anti-Semitic feeling. Adelson and his ilk may discover that they have won the battle but lost the war. Especially when you consider that the support a lot of the loonier Christians have for Israel is based on the concept that at the end of time the Jews are supposed to either be burned up in a nuclear holocaust or convert to Christianity. If I were a supporter of Israel I’d be a little careful about teaming up with such individuals. They may be willing to support you only inasmuch you end up nuclear-fried.

    And both China and Russia will be laughing the entire time.

  16. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Apparently Trump is now saying he’s pretty sure Iran just made a mistake and it will all work out. While the fact he’s a paper tiger and, like most bullies, backs down when challenged is probably good for keeping us out of a pointless war with Iran, it’s not going to go un-noticed around the rest of the world.

    And that’s the real danger. Eventually he’ll realize that these foreign nations don’t actually respect or like him at all and don’t take him seriously, and then all bets are off. I just hope his delusions of respect last past the election.

  17. Kathy says:

    It just hit me that Trump is not just ignorant and stupid, but is playing up to the ignorant and stupid element in his base.

    Take the JCPOA. Whatever you think of the terms of the deal, it’s clear the Iranians value it. Then it’s also clear, or should be, that the JCPOA is the cudgel you should use against Iran.


    You go in all very friendly as hell, explain your base are still sore about the hostage thing in the 70s, and various other things since then, so you have to say mean things in public, for the base, but that’s not your view. Of course, there are still some issues, allies, power politics, money, trade, oil, etc. we should like to hash out with you, and wouldn’t it be a shame to have to withdraw from the JCPOA which is working so well for all concerned?

    The stupid and ignorant way is to throw your gun away before instigating a gun fight, just as Trump did with Iran.

  18. Matt says:

    @Robert C: The Republican party’s nominee for the office of the President of the USA went on stage and sang “bomb bomb Iran”….

    We’re not talking glitter bombs. Bombing tends to destroy and maim…

  19. Robert C says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:
    He’ll never realize that. He’s a narcissist. Plus, he’s surrounded by sycophants.

  20. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I think what will hold most adversaries back now is that the US is a true unknown. It’s unthinkable but no one knows who is in charge of the US intelligence, US military, etc. This is true and verifiable by all domestic, ambassadorial, and media sources. Is Trump in charge or not? There’s enough doubt that I think that is what is leading all these adversaries to hedge their bets. Iran is not going to shoot down an airliner. Although, we might (again).