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Iran Just Shot Down a U.S. Spy Drone

The incident will add heat to the already-simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran.

by David Gilbert
Jun 20 2019, 10:43am

Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone on Thursday morning, adding heat to the simmering tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Iran, via the state-run IRNA news agency, initially claimed that its Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. recently declared a terrorist organization, had shot down an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone that was flying inside Iranian airspace.

The Guard’s website, Sepah News, said the drone was flying over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf.

Hours later, U.S. Central Command disputed the claims, saying the drone was an MQ-4C Triton that was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Both drones are unmanned surveillance aircraft made by weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman, and they look similar.

Iran’s foreign ministry warned of the consequences of U.S. aircraft entering Iranian airspace, while the Revolutionary Guard said shooting down the drone sent “a clear message” to Washington.

“We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,” Commander General Hossein Salami said in a televised address. "Borders are our red line, any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated.”

President Trump tweeted his displeasure:

The downing of the drone will certainly add to the tensions between Tehran and the White House, but it's unlikely to be enough to kickstart an all-out conflict.

It is “the latest in a series of small calculated steps taken by Iran and the U.S.,” Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank in London, told VICE News. “This is more of a case of posturing than an indication that full-on conflict is about to start. This is more about Iran continuing to send messages to the U.S. that it is able to inflict damage on it.”

Last week, the U.S. and its regional allies blamed Iran for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. It also said that Tehran had attempted to shoot down a U.S. drone that was trying to help the ships that had been hit.

The U.S. sent an additional 1,000 troops to the region this week to bolster regional security in the face of what U.S. officials describe as a growing threat from Iran.

Also adding to tensions in the region is Iran’s declaration Monday that, by the end of the month, its stockpiles of enriched uranium will exceed the limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Trump, who withdrew from the accord last year, warned Tehran in an interview this week that he would be willing to go to war if Iran began developing nuclear weapons.

Khatib says that neither Washington nor Tehran is interested in starting a full-on military conflict, but that before a resolution can be reached, both sides need to have “exhausted the benefits of this kind of posturing.”

But such tactics can be risky.

“The danger is that one of these incidents might spiral out of control, leading to a full confrontation, but I think both sides are careful in choosing their targets, and choosing their methods and choosing their words,” Khatib said.

Cover: In this April 24, 2019, Iran's Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP )