An anonymous US official confirmed on Thursday that an American drone was shot down amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal.
However, contrary to Iran’s claim, the official told the Reuters news agency that the aircraft was shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz — not in Iran’s airspace — by Iranian surface-to-air missile.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and is close to the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, citing the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Capt. Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, declined to comment when asked if an American drone was shot down.
However, he told The Associated Press: “There was no drone over Iranian territory.”
A senior Iranian security official said Wednesday that Iran would “strongly respond” if its airspace was violated.
“Our airspace is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our airspace,” the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security council said, according to Reuters.
The reported shootdown of the RQ-4 Global Hawk comes after the US military alleged Iran had fired a missile at a drone last week that responded to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships, an allegation Tehran rejects.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.
Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 deal.
In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. Mysterious attacks also have targeted oil tankers as Iranian-allied Houthi rebels launched bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia. Israel and the US are said to blame Iran for the tanker attacks.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.