The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has claimed responsibility for shooting down a United States Navy RQ-4A high-altitude drone. A surface-to-air missile destroyed the $180 million spy plane.
Iran has claimed the drone was operating in Iranian territory, but US forces have denied the claim, stating the drone was operating in international airspace over the Gulf of Hurmuz, near where two petrochemical tankers were sabotaged last week.
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for the US Central Command said in a statement. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace.”
The drone, which crashed into the sea, is yet to be recovered. US Navy recovery forces are hoping to find the remains of the drone before it is seized by Iran.
A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said the destruction of the drone is intended to “send a clear message” to US decision-makers currently turning up the pressure on the radical Islamic country over a series of terror-related attacks and threats to continue advancing the nation’s quest for nuclear weapons.
BBC News reports that Iranian state television is airing a statement from IGRC Commander-General Hossein Salami warned that Iran was prepared to escalate the growing conflict, but was not seeking war.
“Those who defend the borders of the Islamic nation of Iran will react in a total and decisive way to any intrusions by foreign elements on our land. Our borders are our red line,” Maj-Gen Salami is quoted.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the shoot-down Wednesday night and again Thursday morning. Addressing the incident, he Tweeted:
To complicate the already convoluted situation, Iranian state-run television is circulating a photograph that they claim shows the drone being shot down over Iran. The photo is a cropped version used two years earlier when a US drone was shot down over Yemen.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired cruise missiles Wednesday night into Saudi Arabia, striking a desalinization and power plant. Houthi rebels are also to blame for shooting down the drone used in photos by Iran.
Iran has denied involvement in attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and also denies attacking four other tankers that were sabotaged last month. While various sources give conflicting accounts of how the attacks were executed, US intelligence experts claim Iran is responsible and are circulating photographs that appear to show an IRGC patrol boat removing unexploded mines from one of the two damaged tankers.
War in the Middle East continues to be unpopular with US citizens, who have suffered through decades of involvement in regional conflicts. Whether US military decision makers and President Trump are able to find a pathway that does not involve the use of force remains to be seen.
Trump ordered an additional 1,000 troops to the region on Monday. A US carrier group has also been deployed, along with a Patriot missile system.