Less than a week after the U.S. accused Iran of attacking tankers, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said its air force brought down an American surveillance drone in a southern coastal region along the Strait of Hormuz. The IRGC said the drone had violated its airspace and crashed into Iranian waters.
The American military confirmed that an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an unmanned drone, but denied the aircraft was in Iranian airspace.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace,” said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command.
A drumbeat of recent attacks have pushed fears of continuing conflict in the region.
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The drone was a RQ-4A Global Hawk that provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over vast ocean and coastal regions, said Capt. Urban.
“Iran made a very big mistake!,” President Trump said in a morning tweet.
The drone’s downing was the latest volley in an increasing number of confrontations between Iran and the U.S. and its allies. Oil prices rose sharply after news of the drone attack, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, up 2.7% at $62.47.
The U.S. has been rapidly growing its military presence in the region in response to what it says is hostile behavior from Iran. The Middle East country has chafed under American sanctions since Mr. Trump withdrew from an international deal to open Iran’s economy in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
On Thursday morning, the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for firing a missile that struck a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally. The spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen, Col. Turki al-Maliki, called the attack an act of “terrorism.”
On Wednesday a rocket hit a compound in southern Iraq used by
and other international oil firms, the fourth time in a week that projectiles have been fired at facilities where American personnel are stationed in the country. The U.S. has blamed Iran for attacking six tankers in the Gulf of Oman in the past month and a half. Iran has denied the allegation.
The U.S. military said last week that Iran fired a missile at another surveillance drone responding to an attack on two tankers near the Gulf of Oman. It added that earlier this month a similar unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down over Yemen by a Houthi-directed surface-to-air missile.
On Thursday, the IRGC said the drone took off from a site on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf at about midnight local time and turned off technology to identify itself. It flew east to the southern Iranian port city of Chabahar and gathered information, before then turning back toward its base and was shot down at 4:05 a.m. Thursday near the area of Kuhmobārak, the statement said. The U.S. military confirmed the vehicle was downed at that time.
The tensions in the Persian Gulf exacerbated by the feud between Iran and the U.S. are having an impact globally. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo: Getty
Manufactured by U.S.-based
, the RQ-4A Global Hawk can fly for over 30 hours at a time and has a wingspan of about 130 feet—slightly wider than a Boeing 737 jet.
The U.S., in the past, used surveillance drones to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. In 2011, Iran said it had shot down an American RQ-170 spy drone 140 miles inside Iran, broadcasting footage of the unmanned vehicle on state television. U.S. officials at the same time said the drone appeared to match one that had gone missing in Afghanistan, but said the drone crashed, and wasn’t shot down.
In 2012, Pentagon officials said Iran had shot at a U.S. drone flying over the Persian Gulf, prompting strong protests to the Iranian government.
Hossein Salami, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, said Thursday’s downing of the drone sent a message to the U.S. that Tehran would protect its borders.
“Borders are our red lines. Any enemy that invades these borders will not return [home],” he said in a speech, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. “We don’t have any intention to go [to] war with any country, but we are completely ready for war.”
Trump administration officials have monitored closely the escalating incidents in the Middle East.
Senior officials from a range of U.S. government agencies were called back to the White House to meet Wednesday evening in response to the attack on the Saudi plant and President Trump was briefed on the details, U.S. officials said.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement late Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the White House said it would send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to “hostile behavior” by Tehran, following a decision in May to deploy an extra 1,500 soldiers.
The U.S. commitment came the same day Iran said it would stockpile more enriched uranium in the next 10 days than allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Mr. Trump has scrapped that agreement and returned to sanctions on Iran to seek a better deal and rein in what the U.S. believes is Tehran’s malignant actions in the Middle East.
—Sune Engel Rasmussen in Beirut, Summer Said in Dubai and Gordon Lubold in Washington, D.C., contributed to this article.
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