TEHRAN: Tehran will “accelerate” arming Palestinians in retaliation for Israel’s deploying a spy drone over Iran, which was shot down, a military commander said Monday.
Iran, which does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state, has confirmed that it supplied Palestinian fighters from Hamas and Islamic Jihad with the technology for the rockets that have been fired into Israel from Gaza since July 8.
“We will accelerate the arming of the West Bank and we reserve the right to give any response,” said Brig. Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of aerial forces of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, in a statement on its official website sepahnews.com.
Last month, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the Islamic world to arm Palestinians to allow them to counter what he called Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza.
Iran’s warning Monday came a day after the Guard said it had downed an Israeli “Hermes” stealth drone above the country’s Natanz uranium enrichment site.
Natanz is Iran’s main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges. Around 3,000 more are at the Fordo plant, buried inside a mountain so as to be hard to destroy.
Israel has often threatened to attack Iranian nuclear installations.
An Israeli spokesman told AFP in Jerusalem Sunday after the report that the drone had been shot down that the military did “not address foreign media reports.”
Hajizadeh said at a news conference broadcast on television that the unmanned aircraft shot down was a “Hermes” stealth drone that “can evade radar.”
“Pieces of the drone have been recovered intact and are being analyzed,” he said.
“It was spotted by our surveillance system and shot down by a Revolutionary Guard’s surface-to-air missile,” Hajizadeh said.
Footage of the recovered pieces of the drone was aired on Iran’s Al-Alam TV.
However, there were no visible Israeli markings on the aircraft in the footage.
Hajizadeh said the drone had not come directly from Israel. He said the drone’s range was about 800 kilometers. Israel is about 1,000 kilometers away from Iran’s westernmost boundary and Natanz is about 600 kilometers inland from the closest border point in Iran.
Hajizadeh also said the drone had two front and side cameras capable of providing high-resolution panoramic imaging
Israel considers the Iranian nuclear program a grave threat, and believes the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli intelligence closely monitors the program. Iran has dismissed the accusations, saying its work is focused on generating electricity and other peaceful projects.
A deadline for Iran to answer the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s questions about suspected nuclear bomb research was reached Monday without any immediate word on whether Tehran had provided the information that had been requested of it.
Western officials have long said Iran must address the U.N. agency’s suspicions about its work.
Diplomats told Reuters last week that the long-running inquiry by the International Atomic Energy Agency appeared to be making only slow headway, casting doubt on whether Iran would fully meet the Aug. 25 target date.
They said there was still time for Iran to respond to the questions, noting that it had occasionally waited until the last minute to make concessions in the past.
Officials said that Tehran might also provide the information a few days late.
There was no immediate comment from Tehran and the IAEA said Monday that it would not comment on the issue.
Diplomats say the watchdog may only release details of any Iranian response in its next quarterly report, expected in early September.
Tehran agreed in May to take five steps by late August, including supplying information on alleged explosives experimentation, and studies related to calculating nuclear explosive yields.
Western diplomats say Iran needs to help clear up the IAEA’s suspicions if it wants to reach a broader diplomatic deal in the separate negotiations with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia.
Those talks are focused on persuading Iran to curb its atomic activities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions that are hurting its oil-dependent economy.