The Revolutionary Guard Corps said it shot down a US “spy drone” which violated Iranian airspace near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, in the latest incident to stoke tension in the strategic sea lane.
Iranian state news agency IRNA carried the same report, identifying the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. “It was shot down when it entered Iran’s airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south,” the Guard website added.
Iran did not immediately publish images of the drone.
General Hossein Salami, commander of the paramilitary Guard, said the downing was “a clear message” to the United States. He added that Iran does “not have any intention for war with any country, but we are ready for war”.
However, a US official said on Thursday that an unmanned US Navy MQ-4C Triton had been shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier, a spokesman for the US Central Command denied the incident, saying that “there was no drone over Iranian territory”.
The incident came at a time of growing antagonism between Teheran and Washington following two waves of still unexplained attacks on Gulf shipping. The US and its ally, Saudi Arabia, accused Iran of being behind the attacks.
Teheran has denied any involvement and hinted that Washington might have orchestrated the attacks to provide a pretext for the use of force against Iran.
Tensions have been running high between the two countries since US President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement in May last year.
The subsequent reimposition of crippling unilateral sanctions has dealt a heavy blow to Iran’s economy.
Washington has also bolstered its military presence in the Middle East in a campaign of “maximum pressure” campaign against Teheran.
Its deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier task force as well as B-52 bombers, an amphibious assault ship and a missile defense battery has sparked fears of fresh conflict in the region.
A senior Iranian security official said on Wednesday that Iran would “strongly respond” to any violation of its airspace.
“Our airspace is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our airspace,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying.
He added that there was no reason to worry about a conflict breaking out. “There will be no war (between Iran and the US) since there is no reason for a war.”
One of the two tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week was damaged by a limpet mine, the US Navy said on Wednesday.
Commander Sean Kido of US Naval Forces Central Command said the mine used in the attack “is distinguishable and it is also strikingly bearing a resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades”.
The Japanese-owned ship Kokuka Courageous, loaded with flammable methanol, came under attack on June 13 as it passed through the Gulf of Oman along with the Norwegian-operated Front Altair.
It was the second attack in around a month on ships in the strategic shipping lane.
On May 12, two Saudi oil tankers and two other ships were damaged in mysterious “sabotage attacks” in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates.
Kido said in the UAE emirate of Fujairah that the US military had recovered “biometric information” of the assailants on the Kokuka Courageous including fingerprints.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami flatly rejected allegations Iran was behind the twin attacks.
“Accusations leveled against Iran’s armed forces and the published film with regards to the incident (that) happened to the vessels … are unsubstantiated and we categorically reject these accusations,” IRNA quoted him as saying.