DUBAI: Iran said yesterday it had captured a US intelligence drone in its airspace over the Gulf in the last few days, but the US military quickly denied having lost any unmanned aircraft in the Middle East.
The incident highlighted tensions in the Gulf as the Islamic Republic and the United States demonstrate their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a stand-off over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz — through which about 40 percent of the world’s seaborne crude oil is shipped — if it comes under attack. US commanders have said they will not let that happen.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on its website that the ScanEagle drone had been flying over the Gulf in the last few days and was “captured” when it strayed into Iranian airspace.
A spokesman for US Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said no US drone had gone missing in the region recently.
“The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognised water and air space,” Commander Jason Salata said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran had warned the US over its violations and the drone was evidence of American incursions which it would use it to pursue its complaint “via international bodies”, IRIB News reported.
The IRGC statement did not specify when or where the drone was caught, or whether the unmanned spy plane was shot down or crashed. But it released what it said was video of an apparently undamaged ScanEagle being examined by uniformed officers beneath a sign reading “We shall trample on the US” in English.
The incident is the latest in a string of complaints by Iran over what it says are US violations of its territory in an often clandestine conflict over Tehran’s nuclear programme that has featured assassinations, espionage and cyber sabotage.
The ScanEagle is a 4-ft long “off the shelf” spy plane manufactured by US-based Boeing.