The United States said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down an American surveillance drone in an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace on Thursday, confirming the incident hours after Tehran accused the US of encroaching on its airspace.
The IRGC said early Thursday morning that an America RQ-4 Global Hawk “spy drone” was shot down after it breached Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, the global oil shipping route that has been the focal point of skyrocketing tensions in the region.
The US military confirmed the incident hours later, saying in a statement that a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) drone “was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.”
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” the US Central Command stated. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace.”
While the two states dueled over the location of the drone at the time of the missile strike, the IRGC’s top commander said that the downing of the drone sent a “clear message” to America.
“Our borders are Iran’s red line and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Major General Hossein Salami was quoted by state TV as saying. “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”
Earlier this month, Iran reportedly fired a missile at another US drone in the Gulf of Oman that had spotted Iranian ships closing in on two oil tankers in the strategic waterway hours before they were attacked with naval mines.
Those attacks followed a string of other attacks targeting Gulf oil infrastructure that Washington has said were carried out by Iran or its proxies. Tehran, for its part, categorically denies involvement and has suggested that the US orchestrated the attacks in order to justify use of force against Iran.
Tensions have mounted steadily since the US unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last May, snapping back into place crippling economic sanctions.
Iran has since rolled back its commitments under the deal, most recently quadrupling production of low-enriched uranium and threatening to boost enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels as it tries to pressure European signatories to new terms.
The US announced on Wednesday that it was deploying another 1,000 troops to the Middle East as well as the Patriot air defense system amid the mounting tensions.
World powers have cautioned that a wrong move in the region could trigger a full-scale military confrontation.