Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has shot down a US drone amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
American and Iranian officials confirmed Thursday’s incident, while disputing the circumstances.
The Guard said it shot down the drone over Iranian airspace, while two US officials told The Associated Press that the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz.
The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
Previously, the US military alleged that Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman.
The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships, while Tehran denies it was involved.
The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear
The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal.
In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region.
From Yemen, the Houthis have launched bomb-laden drones into neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
Thursday’s drone incident marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the US amid the crisis.
“We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,” Revolutionary Guard commander General Hossein Salami said in a televised address.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. This is not the first time that Iran is bringing down American drones over claims of trespassing its territory.
Kouhmobarak is some 1200km southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, citing the Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. However, the US Navy also flies a variant that looks similar called the MQ-4C Triton.
The US officials told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace.
The strait is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 per cent of all global oil moves through.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public.
They did not elaborate on the type of drone shot down, nor the mission it was conducting. However, the US has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since the limpet mine attacks in May and June.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had been “briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,” Sanders said.
The Yemeni rebel Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed the Houthis targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom’s border with Yemen, with a cruise missile.
Saudi Arabia confirmed Yemen’s rebels fired a rocket at a desalination plant, but no one was wounded and no damage caused.