Iran claims it 'captured' US drone in its airspace
Iran said yesterday that 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 an aircraft.
The incident highlighted tensions in the Gulf as the Islamic republic and the US demonstrate their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear programme. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - through which about 40% of the world's seaborne crude oil is shipped - if it comes under attack. US commanders have said they will not allow a blockade.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards said on its website that the Scan Eagle drone had been flying over the Gulf for a 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 was missing in the region.
"The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles 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 about its "violations".
The Revolutionary Guards statement did not specify when or where the drone was caught, or whether it was shot down or crashed. But it released what it said was a video of an apparently undamaged Scan Eagle being examined by uniformed officers beneath a sign reading in English: "We shall trample on the US.''
This is the latest in a string of complaints by Iran about what it says are US violations of its territory in an often clandestine conflict over Teheran's nuclear programme that has featured assassinations, espionage and cyber sabotage.
The Scan Eagle is a 1.25m-long "off the shelf" spy plane manufactured by Boeing.
The company also supplies and operates drones for customers in several Middle Eastern countries, including to help ensure oil platform security in the Gulf, according to its website.
Iran and Opec rival Saudi Arabia have also accused each other of violating each other's territory near oil and gas fields in the Gulf over the past year.
In November, the US said Iranian warplanes shot at a US surveillance drone in international airspace.
Iran said the aircraft had entered its airspace to spy on Iranian oil platforms.
Days later Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote to the world body's secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, alleging repeated US violations of Iranian airspace.