Tensions escalate in the Gulf after Iran shoots down US 'spy' drone
Iran said yesterday it had shot down a US military drone that it claimed was flying over one of its southern Gulf provinces.
It is the latest in an escalating spate of incidents in the region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May, including explosive strikes on six oil tankers.
Crude oil prices surged by more than US$3 to above US$63 a barrel yesterday.
Tensions flared with the US pullout last year from a world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and have worsened as Washington imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Tehran’s vital oil trade.
Iran retaliated earlier this week with a threat to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.
Upping the ante, Washington said on Monday it would deploy about 1,000 more troops, along with Patriot missiles and manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced after the May tanker attacks.
Sepah News, the website of Iran’s elite level Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan.
A US official said the drone was a Navy MQ-4C Triton and that it had been shot down in international air space over the Strait of Hormuz.
A Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned what it called a violation of Iranian air space by the drone and warned of the consequences of such “illegal and provocative” measures.
Brigadier General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, warned against any aggression and said the drone’s downing carried a “clear message” to Iran’s arch-enemy.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, added: “Our air space is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our air space.”
The MQ-4C Triton’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, stated the Triton can fly for more than 24 hours at a time at altitudes higher than 16km, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
US President Donald Trump has dispatched forces including aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers and troops to the Middle East over the past few weeks. Iran said last week that it was responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz, calling on American forces to leave the Gulf.
No interest in starting a war
Tehran has also said it will suspend compliance with the nuclear deal’s curbs on its uranium enrichment, meant to block any pathway to nuclear weapons capability, and threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s clerical rulers have rejected as “warmongering” allegations by the United States and its regional ally Saudi Arabia that Tehran was behind the tanker attacks.
However, Trump and Iran’s top authority, Shi’ite clerical Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have both said they have no interest in starting a war.
Trump says the 2015 nuclear accord signed by his predecessor Barack Obama did not do enough to curb Iranian interventions in other Middle East affairs or curb its ballistic missile program.
The Islamic Republic says its development of ballistic missiles and its regional activities are defensive in nature.
Tehran said on Monday it would breach uranium enrichment limits in 10 days, but added that European signatories still had time to save the nuclear deal.
Saudi Arabia has also accused Iran of supplying Yemen’s Houthi movement with missiles and drones used in attacks on Saudi oil-pumping stations in May and on a Saudi airport earlier this month.
Yesterday, the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis in Yemen said a projectile landed near a desalination plant in the Saudi province of Jizan. Houthi-run Masirah TV said the group had fired a missile at a power plant there.