The Pentagon on Thursday alleged that an Iranian fighter jet had attempted to shoot down an unmanned U.S. surveillance aircraft, or drone, as it was flying over international waters in the Persian Gulf last week.
"I can confirm that on November 1, at approximately 4:50 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, an unarmed, unmanned MQ-1 U.S. military aircraft conducting routine surveillance over the Arabian Gulf, was intercepted by an Iranian SU-25 Frog-foot aircraft and was fired upon with guns," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters.
"The incident occurred over international waters, approximately 16 nautical miles off of the Iranian coastline. The MQ-1 was not hit, and returned to its base safely. We believe they fired at least twice and made at least two passes" he said.
Insisting that the targeted drone was flying over international airspace when attacked, Little said the Pentagon has informed both Congress and the White House about the incident. He added that Washington had since responded to Iran through the "Swiss protective powers."
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran is currently looking after U.S. interests in Iran. Washington severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Relations between the two nations deteriorated further over differences on Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters, over the Arabian Gulf, consistent with longstanding practices and our commitment to the security of the region," Little said.
Iran is yet to respond to the allegation. Incidentally, this is not the first time that Iranians have targeted a U.S. drone. Last year, the Iranians had captured a U.S. drone, which they claimed had violated the country's airspace. U.S. officials said later that the pilotless aircraft had veered out of control while on a mission in western Afghanistan before crashing inside Iran.
Iran refused to return the drone, and subsequently unveiled an indigenously-developed long-range drone aircraft in September, claiming that it could reach most of the Middle East countries, including Israel.
Last month, the Israeli military had shot down a drone as it was flying over the Jewish nation. Lebanon's Shia militant movement Hezbollah admitted later that it had launched the downed Iranian-made drone. Further, Iran claimed that it has collected aerial images of highly protected sites in Israel using the drone launched by Hezbollah.
The developments come amid speculations that Israel may soon launch a unilateral military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities if Tehran does not end its disputed uranium enrichment work. Nevertheless, Washington continues to oppose any unilateral Israeli military action against the Islamic Republic over the nuclear issue, and wants to allow more time for diplomacy and sanctions to take effect.
Although Iran insists its nuclear activity is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects the claim to be a cover up for the country's nuclear weapon ambitions. But Tehran argues that it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Iran is currently reeling under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear defiance. Analysts believe that Russia and China, both Iranian allies, are unlikely to support further U.N. sanctions against Tehran over the issue.
However, the United States and its allies have imposed separate sanctions on the Middle East country, targeting its oil and banking sectors, after a report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November which cautioned that Tehran may be planning to develop atomic weapons.
by RTT Staff Writer
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