DUBAI/TEHRAN: Iran believes a U.S. drone targeted by its forces this month was gathering intelligence on oil tankers off its shores, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander told the semiofficial Mehr news agency Sunday. Washington said Iranian warplanes opened fire on an unarmed U.S. drone over international waters on Nov. 1. Iran said it had repelled an aircraft violating its airspace.
The incident underlined the risk of escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran in an ongoing dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
“The drone was flying near Kharg Island and our understanding is that ... it was gathering economic information and intelligence on Kharg Island and oil tankers [in the area],” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying by Mehr.
Kharg, 25 kilometers off the Iranian mainland, is the Islamic Republic’s main export terminal for its oil.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has some red lines that the Americans should understand and respect. If they do it again they can expect an even stronger response,” he added.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday the Iranian Su-25 Frogfoot fighters fired at the robotic Predator drone, but did not hit it.
“They intercepted the aircraft and fired multiple rounds,” he said.
In a warning to Tehran, the Pentagon spokesman said the United States was prepared to safeguard its forces.
“We have a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military, to protect our military assets and our forces in the region and will do so when necessary,” Little said.
Washington, the EU and other bodies have imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil trade to press it to halt nuclear research the West fears is aimed as developing the capability to build a nuclear bomb.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against the Islamic Republic, if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.
Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear work is purely for peaceful purposes.