Iran denies drone shot down by U.S. over Strait of Hormuz

Published: July 19, 2019 9:22 AM EDT
Updated: July 19, 2019 10:13 AM EDT
U.S.S. Boxer. Photo viw CBS News

Iran has denied that a U.S. warship in the Strait of the Hormuz shot down one of its drones, suggesting the American vessel might even have blown one of the U.S. military’s own drones out of the sky. Reacting to the shoot-down announced Thursday by President Trump and confirmed by U.S. Central Command, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi tweeted on Friday:

“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.”I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS by mistake!” added Araghchi, using an acronym for unmanned aerial systems.

His boss, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in New York for meetings at the United Nations this week, had earlier said Tehran had “no information about losing a drone.”
Iran’s military also rejected the American claim, with spokesman Abolfazl Shekarchi quoted by state media as saying all “drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz… returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control, and there is no report of any operational response by USS Boxer.”

An official with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard told one of the country’s state-controlled media outlets that the Guard would release images disproving the American claim to have downed an Iranian drone.

President Trump first announced the purported strike at a White House event with the Dutch prime minister on Thursday, saying an Iranian drone that ignored warnings as it approached the USS Boxer amphibious assault ship in the Strait was “destroyed.”

“The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone, which had closed into a very, very near distance – approximately 1,000 yards – ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew. The drone was immediately destroyed,” Mr. Trump said. “This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.”

The U.S. military has not offered any detail on the type of drone it says was shot down, including whether it was believed to have been an armed aircraft or one used solely for surveillance.

Regardless of the conflicting claims by Washington and Tehran, the incident increases the already-high animosity between the two countries. Tension has risen steadily since President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international nuclear agreement between Iran and other world powers last year. Mr. Trump’s administration then hit Iran with the harshest economic sanctions the regime has faced to date — a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at completely depriving the Islamic Republic of its vital oil revenue.

The White House’s stated goal is to draw Iran back to the negotiating table to hammer out a new nuclear agreement, which the Trump administration wants to include limits on Tehran’s non-nuclear missile program. The administration also says Iran must halt its support for militant groups elsewhere in the volatile Mideast, from Houthi rebels in Yemen to the Hezbollah faction based in Lebanon and Shiite militias in Iraq.

In response to Trump reneging on the deal negotiated by his predecessor, Iran gave European nations and the other nuclear deal signatories a year to keep the agreement viable by finding a way to get around the U.S. sanctions to keep doing business with Tehran. Early this summer that time window lapsed and Iran started taking step-by-step measures to violate its commitments under the nuclear deal, arguing that if it wasn’t benefiting from the sanctions relief granted by the agreement, it shouldn’t have to keep up its end of the bargain.

Tehran shirked warnings from Washington and Europe and ramped-up its uranium enrichment program, and tensions soared further when Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard military unit shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in mid-June. The Iranians claim that drone violated their airspace and was shot down as a “clear message” that such incursions would not be tolerated. The U.S. insists it was downed over international waters, and President Trump ordered retaliatory cyberattacks on Iran after abandoning plans for a military strike at the last minute.

There have also been a number of mysterious attacks on oil pipelines in U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia, rocket attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq, and harassment of commercial vessels in and around the Persian Gulf blamed on Iran over the course of the last month — including the seizure of a small tanker last weekend that Iran claims was smuggling fuel.

U.S. officials have said the shoot-down of the Iranian drone on Thursday was not a tit-for-tat response to the American UAV being blown up by Iran in June, but rather a defensive action taken by the USS Boxer.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran, against vessels operating in international waters,” Mr. Trump said Thursday, after announcing the U.S. had shot down an Iranian drone. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.”

As CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin has reported this week, the U.S. is trying to convince allies to form a flotilla of warships to secure the shipping channel in and out of the Persian Gulf. About a third of the world’s oil supply is moved via tanker from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz and out to refineries around the globe every year.

Mr. Trump called Thursday on other nations to “protect their ships as they go through the Strait and to work with us in the future.”