Iran Revolutionary Guard shoots down US drone amid tensions

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Sailors stand on deck above a hole the U.S. Navy says was made by a limpet mine on the damaged Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. The limpet mines used to attack a Japanese-owned oil […]

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, while disputing the circumstances of the incident.

The Guard said it shot down the drone over Iranian airspace, while two U.S. officials told The Associated Press that the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.

Previously, the U.S. military alleged that Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. blames Iran for the attack on the ships; Tehran denies it was involved.

The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.

Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. From Yemen, the Houthis have launched bomb-laden drones into neighboring Saudi Arabia.

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution. Thursday’s drone incident marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the U.S. amid the crisis.

“We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,” Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, citing the Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. However, the U.S. Navy also flies a variant that looks similar called the MQ-4C Triton.

The U.S. officials told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. The officials said the incident happened over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace. The strait is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all global oil moves through.

The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public. They did not elaborate on the type of drone shot down, nor the mission it was conducting. However, the U.S. has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since the limpet mine attacks in May and June.

Salami, speaking to a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, described the American drone as “violating our national security border.”

“Borders are our red line,” Salami said. “Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated.”

Iran has claimed to have shot down American drones in the past. In the most-famous incident, Iran seized an RQ-170 Sentinel in December 2011 flown by the CIA to monitor Iranian nuclear sites after it entered Iranian airspace from neighboring Afghanistan. The Iranians later reverse-engineered the drone to create their own variants.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had been “briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,” Sanders said.

The Yemeni rebel Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed the Houthis targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom’s border with Yemen, with a cruise missile. Saudi state media and officials did not immediately report a missile strike Thursday.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation now pushed to the brink of famine by the conflict. In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched a new campaign sending missiles and bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

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