First Published: 2012-11-09

 

Washington: Iran warplanes fired on US drone in Gulf

 

Pentagon reveals Iran’s Su-25 Frogfoot fighters fired on US Predator drone over Inrenational waters.

 

Middle East Online

By Dan De Luce - WASHINGTON

The Pentagon revealed Thursday that two Iranian fighter jets fired on an unarmed US Predator drone in the Gulf last week but the aircraft was not hit, in an incident that underscored tensions in the region.

The incident occurred on November 1 -- less than a week before America's presidential election -- but the Pentagon kept it quiet until reports of the confrontation leaked out.

"They intercepted the aircraft and fired multiple rounds," spokesman George Little told a news conference.

The Su-25 Frogfoot fighters, much faster than the slow-moving turboprop drone, fired at least twice and made two passes, he said.

It was unclear whether the Iranians intended to warn off the unmanned drone but Little said: "Our working assumption is that they fired to take it down."

The confrontation threatened to derail diplomatic efforts to defuse a mounting crisis over Tehran's nuclear program, amid a shadow war of cyberattacks, bombings and assassinations.

Tough new sanctions led by Washington are squeezing Iran's economy, while the United States and Israel are accused of staging cyber sabotage on Tehran's uranium enrichment plants.

The US military drone was "never in Iranian air space" and came under fire from the fighter jets off the Iranian coast over international waters, Little said.

The robotic Predator aircraft was conducting "routine surveillance" and the United States has told Iran it has no plans to suspend the flights, he said.

"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 practice and our commitment to the security of the region," 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.

The MQ-1 drone was pursued further by the Iranian warplanes but was not fired on again, he said.

The Predator later returned safely to an unspecified military base in the region following the incident that occurred at 4:50 am US eastern standard time (0850 GMT).

The Predator -- known as the weapon of choice in America's bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan -- was intercepted about 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast, beyond the Islamic Republic's territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles off the country's shore.

Iranian military speedboats have sometimes swarmed US warships in the Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for the world's oil, but the incident last week was the first involving an American drone in a confrontation with Iranian aircraft, officials said.

Tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions prompted the United States to bolster its military presence around the Gulf over the past year, deploying two aircraft carrier battle groups in the area at all times, a squadron of stealthy F-22 fighters to the United Arab Emirates and more minesweeper ships.

With America's drawn out election campaign finally over, analysts had predicted President Barack Obama might have more leeway to pursue diplomacy with Iran. But the encounter with the Iranian fighter jets served as a reminder that a single incident or misunderstanding could trigger conflict.

A new round of talks between Iran and six world powers, the first since June, is expected by the end of the year or in early 2013.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and has made clear any deal with the major powers has to offer relief from crippling sanctions.

Israel meanwhile maintains time is running out as Iran expands its uranium enrichment work, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggesting his country may stage a unilateral strike next year if Tehran continues on its present course.

At the State Department, officials unveiled yet more sanctions on Iran, targeting the communications minister and the culture ministry among others for censoring the media and the Internet.

 

17 killed in fatal Cairo building collapse

Syrian air strikes on Raqa kill 63 civilians

UN chief calls for halt to Libya air strikes

Russia trims oil output

Lebanese diva Sabah passes away

Egypt leader begins two-day trip to France

Tribesmen blow up Yemen’s main oil pipeline

Egypt nabs five Salafist leaders

Essebsi leads Tunisia presidential vote

Paris pushing for 'safe zones' in war-torn Syria

New air strike hits Tripoli’s sole operational airport

Pentagon chief steps down

Saudi seeks to ‘knock out’ shale oil competitors from oil market

Death toll rises from Morocco flash floods

Yemen troops free 8 hostages from Al-Qaeda

Italy hails Egypt as 'strategic partner'

US Congress skeptical of Iran nuclear talks extension

Khartoum, Darfur rebels open ceasefire talks

Time runs out for biggest chance to resolve Iran nuclear standoff

Egypt leader heads to Italy

Morocco arrests six over online IS allegiance pledge

Iraqi forces retake areas near Iran border from jihadists

Southern Morocco storms claim eight lives

Marzouki, Essebsi set for runoff in Tunisia presidential vote

Biden wraps up Turkey visit without breakthrough on Syria

Sudan launches investigation into claims of 'mass rape' in Darfur village

Assad urges ‘real pressure’ on backers of 'terror'

Israel eyes powers to revoke rights of Arab residents

Iraq death sentence to ex- PM threatens to damage ties with powerful tribe

Iran hardliners resist possible nuclear deal in rare protest

After failure of boycott, Bahrain Shiite opposition resorts to accusations

Tunisia votes for president in first free and multi-candidate election

Hope for change and stability as Tunisia prepares to elect new president

Saudi detainee sent home as US speeds up Guantanamo repatriations

Economy and security top agenda of Sisi’s first European tour

Benghazi attack report clears Obama administration of serious charges

Voters bet on stability in crucial Bahrain elections

Hurdles remain high as Iran and world powers press on for nuclear pact

Shebab ‘revenge’ attack leaves 28 innocents dead in Kenya

Strains between Washington and Ankara despite declared agreement

Paypal teams up with AttijariWafa Bank to boost Morocco exports

UN begins sending winter aid to Iraq

Turkey launches all-out war against bonzai drug

Turkey to build bridge across Dardanelles to ease traffic

IS launch major attack on Ramadi