The elite Revolutionary Guard in Iran claimed today to have captured a US drone over the Gulf, igniting a fresh wave of anti-American bellicosity and highlighting tensions between the countries as the stand-off over Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts remain unresolved.
Tehran’s assertion was disputed almost instantly by the United States and the regime sought to back up its claim with a video showing such an aircraft displayed in front of a map of the region with text declaring: “We will trample the US under our feet.”
“Our enemies should open their eyes,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today in a speech that addressed Iran’s adversaries in general without singling out the US. “They may be able to take a few steps forward, but in the end we will make them retreat behind their own border.”
Both Iran and the US have been jostling to show off their military capability around the Straits of Hormuz, part of the shipping route for about 40 per cent of all the world’s seaborne crude oil exports. The drone appeared to be a Boeing ScanEagle. About 4ft long, it can be launched by catapult from small ships and is used for reconnaissance.
The US sought to cast doubt on the claim, saying none of its drones was missing. “The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” a Naval Forces Central Command spokesman told Reuters. “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognised water and airspace. We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.” But The New York Times indicated that did not rule out the Iranians’ having captured a drone operated by non-military US interests, such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the more secretive National Security Agency. Several US allies in the region also operate ScanEagle drones.
It has been less than a month since the US complained that Iran opened fire on one of its Predator drones in the region. There was praise from the Iranian parliament for the alleged snaring of the ScanEagle. “The hunting and capturing of this American drone once again showed off the defensive and repelling strengths of the Islamic republic to the world,” Ebrahim Aghamohammadi, a member of parliament, told Fars, the official news agency. “We are moving forward with dominance.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told state television that Tehran would use the capture of the drone to pursue legal cases against the US in international bodies for violation of Iranian airspace. There was no information on the date of the alleged capture or how it was taken.
“We had announced to the Americans that according to international conventions, we would not allow them to invade our territories, but unfortunately they did not comply,” Mr. Salehi said. “We had objected to the Americans before, but they claimed they were not present in our territories. We will use this drone as evidence to pursue a legal case against American invasion in international forums.”
Last month, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Mohammad Khazaee, lodged a written complaint with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about alleged US incursions into Iranian airspace, calling them as “illegal and provocative acts”. He said US aircraft – presumably drones – had entered southern Iran seven times in October around Bushehr, the site of Iran’s only working nuclear power station.
Last night’s exchanges between the two sides brought echoes of Iran’s downing in its territory a year ago of an RQ-170 Sentinel drone operated by the CIA over Afghanistan. Iran said it jammed the aircraft’s controls electronically.