Donald Trump, the president of the United States, says Iran has “made a very big mistake” after Iranian forces shot down a US military drone.
Washington said yesterday that one of its drones had been downed in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
But Tehran disputed where the incident took place, saying the RQ-4 Global Hawk had violated Iranian airspace over the southern coastal province of Hormozgan.
Later on yesterday, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Iran made a very big mistake!”
The incident marked the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets amid an escalating crisis between the two countries.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme. It was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf since mid-May, including suspected attacks on six oil tankers that the US blamed on Iran.
Tehran denied involvement, but Washington has boosted its military presence in the Gulf, deploying warships, bombers and thousands more troops to the region. All of this has raised fears that a miscalculation or a further rise in frictions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict.
Later on Thursday, when asked if the US would strike Iran in retaliation to the downing of the drone, Trump told reporters: “You’ll soon find out.”
But he also appeared to downplay the incident, saying it could have been a mistake by someone who was “loose and stupid”.
“I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody who should not have been doing.”
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it shot down the drone at 4:05 am local time yesterday when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Hormozgan.
Kouhmobarak is about 1 200 km southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for the world’s oil supplies.
Iran used its air defence system known as Third of Khordad to shoot down the drone – a truck-based missile system that can fire up to 30 kilometres high, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, citing the IRGC, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk, which cost over $100m apiece and can fly higher than 16km and stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time.
They have a distinguishable hump-shaped front and an engine atop.
Their wingspan is bigger than a Boeing 737 passenger jet.
The US CENTCOM said the RQ-4A Global Hawk maritime surveillance drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile while in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” CENTCOM said, adding that “this was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace”.
Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.
Justin Bronk, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, described the drone as “very sophisticated” and said it was unlikely that the military aircraft would have strayed accidentally into Iranian air space.
“It’s got extremely powerful terrain and maritime surveillance mapping radar, as well as electro-optical and infrared sensors.
“So it has a very sophisticated set of sensors to tell it exactly where it is at any given time,” he said.
“This is the one of the least likely drones in the world to get lost . . . So that leaves you with either the Iranians shooting it down in international airspace, as a controlled escalation or warning to the US and international community that the status quo with the sanctions, particularly on oil exports is intolerable. Or you could argue, potentially that the drone strayed into Iranian air space deliberately,” he said.
The latter explanation was less likely, he said, because the drone “is a very expensive and relatively scarce asset”, meaning “the US would be more than symbolically annoyed at losing it”.
In Iran, General Hossein Salami, the IRGC commander, said Iran did not seek war with any country, but “we are fully ready for war”.
Speaking to a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, Salami described the American drone as “violating our national security border.”
“Borders are our red line,” Salami said. “Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry separately protested the drone, saying it entered Iranian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for caution, warning any war between Iran and the US would be a “catastrophe for the region as a minimum”.
Saudi Arabia, Washington’s main gulf ally, said Iran had created a grave situation with its “aggressive behaviour” and the kingdom was consulting other Gulf Arab states on next steps.
“When you interfere with international shipping it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters in London.
Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said he was concerned by the latest incident, and called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint and avoid any action that could inflame the situation”.
Tensions between Iran and the US have increased since last year when Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015.
Since its withdrawal, Washington has reimposed and tightened sanctions on Tehran in a “maximum pressure” campaign it said was aimed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme.
Responding to the move, Iran has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium.
On Monday, Iran gave the pact’s remaining signatories 10 days to deliver on promised economic benefits, saying it will otherwise breach its uranium stockpile limit mandated by the accord. — AFP.