Iran denies US claims it destroyed Iranian drone near Persian Gulf
The incident marks a new escalation of tensions between the countries.
Iran has denied President Donald Trump’s statement that a US warship destroyed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf after it threatened the ship.
The incident marks a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than a month after Iran downed an American drone in the same area and Mr Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.
“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” tweeted deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi.
The strait is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and serves as the passageway for a fifth of all global crude exports. A clash there highlights the risk of war between Iran and the US.
Mr Trump, speaking from the Oval Office on Friday, said: “No doubt about it. We shot it down.”
Neither Mr Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the drone was destroyed, or provided any video or other evidence from the incident.
Several US officials said the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.
I want to apprise everyone of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz today, involving #USSBoxer, a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. The BOXER took defensive action against an Iranian drone.... pic.twitter.com/Zql6nAUGxF— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2019
On Thursday, Mr Trump said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.
Mr Trump blamed Iran for a “provocative and hostile” action and said the US responded in self-defence.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that “we have no information about losing a drone today”.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said on its website on Friday that it would release images from the drone — taken both before and after the US claimed it was downed.
The Guard said the drone had been carrying out regular surveillance when the USS Boxer arrived, and transmitted photos of the ship.
The statement added that Guard forces continue to carefully monitor all movements of foreigners — especially “the terrorist forces” of the US and the British in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf.
After Mr Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front, shooting down a US drone on June 20.
Also in the past few weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the US has blamed on Iran, and a tense encounter between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the British Navy.
Iran has denied involvement in the attacks and the British naval encounter.
The US has also sent thousands of additional troops and increased its security presence in the region.
Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the US Treasury Department said on Thursday that it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear programme.
It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium.
The Pentagon said Thursday’s incident happened in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf.
The Boxer is among several US navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.
Neither Mr Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.
The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it is not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a US warship.
In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the US ships.
Thursday’s incident was the latest in a series of events that raised US-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening US forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf.
In response, the US accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defence missile batteries in the Gulf region.
Shortly after Iran shot down a US navy drone aircraft in June, Mr Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any US lives.
Iran claimed the US drone violated its airspace. The Pentagon denied this.