U.S. Navy Denies Iran's Claim to Have Captured Drone

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TEHRAN -- Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps naval forces have captured an American drone that it said entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, state television reported on Tuesday. The claim was quickly denied by the United States Navy.

Iranian state media said the aircraft was a ScanEagle built by Boeing, which, according to the company's Web site, can be launched and operated from ships.

A spokesman for the United States Navy in Bahrain denied the Iranian claim, saying that no American drones were missing.

"The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region," a spokesman for the United States Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain told Reuters. "Our operations in the gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and airspace. We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently."

However, the drone could have been one used by the Central Intelligence Agency, or even the National Security Agency, which both have eyes on Iran. Several kingdoms of the Persian Gulf also have ScanEagle drones.

If the seizure is confirmed, it would indicate a spike in tension between the United States and Iran in the skies over the gulf. On Nov. 8, Pentagon officials said Iranian warplanes had fired at a Predator drone flying over the gulf the previous week. It was believed to be the first incident in which Iranian warplanes had fired on an American drone, they said.

State television showed images of what seemed to be an intact ScanEagle being inspected by Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' naval forces. The drone was displayed in front of a large map of the Persian Gulf with a text in English and Persian saying, "We shall trample on the U.S.."

Without mentioning the drone claim, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday warned Iran's adversaries against aggression. "Our enemies should open their eyes," he said in a speech. "They may be able to take a few steps forward, but in the end we will make them retreat behind their own border."

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told state television on Tuesday that the country planned to use the capture of the drone as evidence against the United States in international organizations.

"We had announced to the Americans that according to international conventions, we would not allow them to invade our territories, but unfortunately they did not comply," Mr. Salehi said. "We had objected to the Americans before, but they claimed they were not present in our territories. We will use this drone as evidence to pursue a legal case against American invasion in international forums." Admiral Fadavi said his forces had "hunted down" the ScanEagle over the gulf after it violated Iranian airspace and had forced it to land electronically, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported. A state television commentator said the drone was on a spy mission.

A September report by the Government Accountability Office on unmanned aircraft systems warned that some drones were sensitive to jamming and spoofing. In a spoofing operation, an unencrypted GPS signal can be taken over by enemy forces, the report warns, effectively hijacking the drone.

A former member of Iran's Foreign Policy and National Security Commission said the seizure of the drone illustrated Iran's growing military powers and showed that the United States was not really interested in mending relations with Tehran.

"How can we trust President Obama for talks if he sends his drones into our airspace?" the former commission member, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, said in an interview. "This move is counterproductive for any détente."

Iran's Parliament, which always cheers on any success by the Revolutionary Guards, invited top commanders to present details of the capture to lawmakers.

"The hunting and capturing of this American drone once again showed off the defensive and repelling strengths of the Islamic republic to the world," Ebrahim Aghamohammadi, a member of Parliament, told Fars. "We are moving forward with dominance."

In the Nov. 1 attack on the Predator, American officials maintained that the drone had been over international waters, while Iranian commanders insisted that it had violated Iranian airspace. Sea and air borders in the region are strongly contested. Iranian naval forces in small speedboats and United States warships monitor the sea lanes, through which nearly 30 percent of the world's oil is transported.

Last month, Iran complained to the United Nations over at least eight violations of its airspace by American planes.

Iran's latest claim came 12 months after Iran said it had brought down an RQ-170 Sentinel operated by the C.I.A. At the time, Iranian state television showed images of the bat-winged drone -- apparently fully intact -- that Iran had nicknamed "the beast of Kandahar," a reference to a drone base in Afghanistan.

Iran has maintained that it hacked into the RQ-170's controls and forced it to land. But American officials said it had crashed in Iranian territory.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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