Following confirmation from both sides that an American surveillance drone was fired at by Iranian jets, top brass with Iran’s military say the country won’t hesitate to shoot again next time a US craft enters its airspace.
“The defenders of the Islamic Republic will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground," Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, a senior armed forces commander, told the Fars news agency in a report published on Friday.
One day earlier, the Pentagon admitted that an unmanned aerial vehicle managed by the US Defense Department escaped unscathed from enemy fire during a routine surveillance mission 16 miles outside of Iran on November 1. Iranians do not contest that account entirely, but do dispute America’s claim in regards to where exactly the incident occurred. According to the Pentagon, the drone was targeted last week while flying far enough off of the Iranian coast that it was considered to be in international territory. While Iran has declined to offer an exact number to counter America’s claims of being 16 nautical miles off land, remarks from foreign defense officials suggest that the US could have been closer.
Comments from both Gen. Jazayeri and Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s minister of defense, suggest that the US aircraft was within 12 miles from the Iranian coast, making it fair game for that country’s air force to open fire.
"If any foreign aircraft attempts to enter our airspace our armed forces will deal with them," says Jazayeri, who also serves as the deputy chairman to the country’s chief of staff. Jazayeri failed to specifically imply he was discussing the drone, but made his comments hours after the Pentagon confirmed that their craft was fired at.
According to the New York Times, Iran also disputes where the shooting actually originated from. Initially, the US says two airplanes controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot at the drone. As far as Gen. Vahidi, the defense minister, is concerned, that’s incorrect. The Times writes that Vahidi believes “the two Iranian planes, which the Pentagon had identified as Russian-made Su-25 jets known as Frogfoots, belonged to the Iranian Air Force.” The paper notes that America’s insistence that the attack came from the Guard Corps pins the blame on a group “whose activities are routinely more aggressive than the conventional Air Force.”
George Little, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Thursday that the United States has every intention of continuing its routine spy missions from international territory outside of Iran.
"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 practices and our commitment to the security of the region,” Little said.
Contesting Iran’s claims of being in their own airspace, Little added, "Our aircraft was never in Iranian airspace. It was always flying in international airspace.”
In a briefing released by the Stratfor intelligence group, they suggest that the US will do little to avoid any possible future altercations like last week’s. “It should be remembered that they were shooting at an unmanned aircraft, which was created in part so that no human life would be at risk if it was shot down. That doesn't mean the United States is casual about losing a very expensive piece of hardware. It does mean that the U.S. military is unlikely to suspend operations,” writes Stratfor. “Clearly the United States doesn't mind making the Iranians nervous.”
The assault is believed to be the first time during a 30-year plus standoff between the two countries that Iran opened fire on an American UAV. Last year, Iran hijacked one of those unmanned drones well within their territory during what the US called a routine reconnaissance mission.