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Iran to take US to international court over intercepted spy drone

Published time: December 05, 2012 11:04
Edited time: December 05, 2012 15:04
Insitu's ScanEagle, an autonomous aircraft system (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Insitu's ScanEagle, an autonomous aircraft system (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Iran has threatened international legal action against Washington over its alleged interception of a US spy drone. Tehran claims it has evidence of illegal spying on Iran’s nuclear program to present to an international court.

­Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced on Tuesday that Tehran now has proof of the presence of US spy drones over Iranian territory.

“We had formally protested such actions by the US and had announced that we would defend our borders by any means possible,” Salehi told national media. International law forbids the violation of national borders, which Tehran had warned the US against before, “but unfortunately they did not comply,” he said.

“We will use this drone as evidence to pursue a legal case against the US invasion at relevant international bodies,” the Iranian FM said.

In a video broadcast on Iran’s Press TV on December 4, a US ScanEagle drone recently intercepted over the Persian Gulf by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was not visibly damaged. If the drone was manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu, the lack of damage indicates it was not shot down, but was ‘hooked’ intact and brought to the ground.

IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, who made the official announcement on the drone’s capture, did not specify the exact date it had been intercepted.

One year ago, Tehran was reluctant to go to an international court when Iranian electronic warfare specialists managed to take control of the top-secret US RQ-170 ‘Sentinel’ stealth drone on a mission above the northeastern Iranian city Kashmar. The Sentinel was hacked and forced to land on an Iranian airfield, and then captured intact on December 4, 2011.

The large – 12-meter wingspan – state-of-the art drone, packed with high-tech electronics, was considered too precious to return to the US, so Tehran kept the drone for research, despite repeated threats by Washington. Tehran’s only legal move was to lodged a complaint to the United Nations about the US violation of Iranian airspace.

The ScanEagle, conversely, is not secret technology; the aircraft has been in extensive use by the US military since at least 2004, when it was reportedly first used during the Iraq War. With a wingspan of 3 meters and a portable weight, it could easily be delivered to the international court in Geneva.

Washington has expressed increasing levels of concern and interest over Iran’s nuclear program. On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal published a report revealing that Washington has “significantly stepped up spying operations” on Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant over the last two months.

US anxiety reportedly stems from the fact that after only two months in operation, the plant’s staff unloaded fuel rods from the reactor. US intelligence, which suspects Bushehr’s reactors could be used to create of nuclear weapons, is closely monitoring the plant using drones.
The Wall Street Journal report also revealed that the US attempted to eavesdrop on phone calls made by the plant’s staff to get a better understanding of the activity taking place underneath Bushehr’s protective concrete igloo.

Iran is well aware of the numerous US attempts to spy on Bushehr – there were at least two reported incidents in November where Iran repelled airborne intruders.

On November 1, two Iranian Soviet-made Su-25 fighters opened fire on a US MQ-1 Predator drone on a mission over the Persian Gulf. The drone was not hit, and returned to base. The incident was the first time the Iranian Air Force openly attacked a US drone – Washington filed a complaint against Tehran, promising a sterner response in future such events.

One week later, on November 9, the Iranian Air Force repelled another unidentified aircraft that entered the Iranian airspace “above the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic in the Persian Gulf,” Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said.

The AP earlier reported that the drone revealed on Iranian TV may not have been American-made, or was lost by the US. The United Arab Emirates, another nation in the region, also operates ScanEagle drones. The low-cost UAVs, which can remain airborne for 22 hours, may have been used by numerous US special operations teams operating from a large number of American military bases in the Persian Gulf region. 

Whatever the reason, Tehran now possess another drone from which it will almost certainly attempt to reverse-engineer UAVs of its own.

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