Iranian commanders confirmed their military jets had shot at an unmanned American drone conducting surveillance off their country’s southwest coast a few days ago, adding that they are ready for “any threat” to the Islamic country’s borders.
The Pentagon had announced Thursday that an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone engaged in a routine but “classified surveillance mission” was shot at by two Iranian Su-25 jet fighters over international waters, 16 miles off the Iranian shore.
Iran’s Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi confirmed the incident Friday, but stated explicitly that the “unidentified plane” was in fact flying over Iranian waters – less than 12 nautical miles from the coastline.
The Predator drone was not hit in the Nov. 1 incident, and it returned under its own power to its base.
“Due to the timely, smart and decisive action of the Iranian Armed Forces, [it] was forced to flee,” General Vahidi said, according to official Iranian media. “This experience and previous incidents show that the Islamic Republic of Iran vigilantly and precisely monitors all movements [of its enemies] and takes decisive, necessary and timely actions.”
Vahidi’s comments followed those of another general, who said today Iran would take on any intruder.
“If any aircraft seeks to enter our country’s airspace, our armed forces will confront it,” said deputy chairman of the Iran Chiefs of Staff Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri. Iran would “firmly” respond to any ground, sea, or air “invasion.”
The near-clash comes at a moment of heightened tension and expectations between Iran, the US, Israel and Western powers. Secret meetings between the U.S. and Iran have reportedly preceded a resumption of talks later this month about Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
The latest incident recalled the loss of a CIA Stealth drone deep inside Iranian territory last December. U.S. officials said it crashed while on a mission in Afghanistan, but Iran announced it had caught the drone in an “electronic ambush.” An Iranian engineer told the Monitor how Iran brought it down largely intact by incrementally “spoofing” the bird’s GPS system.
Until that point, the very existence of the CIA’s bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel drone was classified.
On the eve of what Iranian media billed as a “massive nationwide [military] maneuver,” top Iranian officers said their forces were ready, as rhetoric about a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has surged in recent months.
Iran’s official PressTV reported that the “Defenders of Velayat Skies 4” maneuver would cover 850,000 square kilometers in eastern Iran, and would “display the full strength and preparedness of Iran’s air defense forces to defend the Islamic Republic’s eastern borders.”
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the Iranian planes fired at least twice at the slow-moving drone and pursued it for several miles as it moved away. He said at no point did the Predator enter Iranian airspace.
“There is absolutely no precedence for this,” Little said. “This is the first time that a [drone] has been fired upon to our knowledge by Iranian aircraft.”
While both sides have engaged in heated rhetoric over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, neither announced the drone incident last week until CNN broke the news on Thursday.
CNN reported a senior US official saying: “At least two bursts of gunfire came from the Su-25s’ cannons. The drone started to move away but the Iranian aircraft chased it, doing aerial loops around it before breaking away and returning to Iran.”
At a press briefing Thursday, Little said the Pentagon considered media reports “an unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” and that the U.S. military did not announce the Nov. 1 incident because “we routinely do not advertise our classified surveillance missions.”
CNN reported on Thursday that onboard still and video cameras recorded the incident, along with, presumably, its precise coordinates.
The Predator incident was made public as both sides jockeyed before an expected resumption of nuclear talks later this month.