US President Donald Trump called Iran’s shooting down of a US military drone on Thursday a new fly in the ointment and claimed that it may have been a mistake.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the drone was unarmed and clearly over international waters, adding that it could have been shot down by someone “loose and stupid.”
During an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump said that “probably Iran made a mistake – I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down.”
He also said the US has documented that its drone was above international waters, not Iranian territory, as Tehran claims. When asked how the US will respond, he said, “You’ll find out.”
According to officials in Jerusalem, Israel is closely monitoring the situation, although the IDF has not moved to a heightened alert status. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the issue briefly in a statement, saying that “in the last 24 hours Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us. And I repeat my call for all peace-loving countries to stand by the United States in its effort to stop Iranian aggression. Israel stands by the United States on this.” Netanyahu’s comments were similar to what he said on Sunday, following last week’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, in which he also called on “all peace-seeking nations” to support the US and Trump in their efforts “to ensure freedom of navigation in international waterways.”
Overall the prime minister has kept a low public profile as the tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen significantly over the last week. Netanyahu is expected to discuss the issue at length on Sunday with US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is arriving to take part in a trilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev and Meir Ben-Shabbat, the head of Israel’s National Security Council. Early next week, Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with Patrushev individually, and then together with both him and Bolton. According to Russian media, Patrushev told reporters that the main focus of the meeting will be Iran’s presence in Syria, and that he will “represent Iran’s interests before the Israelis and the Americans.”
Tehran and Washington have edged towards confrontation as the downing of the drone was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May including explosive strikes on six oil tankers. It’s unclear how the United States will respond, but US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Washington has no appetite for war with Iran.
Regardless of Iran denying involvement in the tanker attacks, global jitters about a new Middle East conflagration disrupting oil exports, has triggered a jump in crude prices, which surged by more than $3 to over $63 a barrel on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia, Washington’s main Gulf ally, said Iran had created a grave situation with its “aggressive behavior” and the kingdom was consulting other Gulf Arab states on next steps. “When you interfere with international shipping it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters in London.
Tensions flared with Trump’s withdrawal last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and have worsened as Washington imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Tehran’s vital oil trade. Iran retaliated earlier this week with a threat to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.
On top of the 1,500-troop increase announced after the May tanker attacks, Washington upped the ante on Monday saying that it would deploy about 1,000 more troops, along with Patriot missiles and manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, to the Middle East.
Iranian state media said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, with a locally made “3 Khordad” missile.
A US official said the drone, formally called an RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude, Long, Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System, had been downed in international air space over the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of the world’s seaborne oil exits the Gulf.
Navy Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command, said Iran’s account that the drone had been flying over Iranian territory was false.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international air space,” Urban said. The drone, he added, was downed over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 2335 GMT – the early morning hours of local time in the Gulf.
Separately, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity the debris field from the drone was in international waters in the Strait, and US naval assets have been dispatched to the area.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the drone had violated Iranian air space, and warned of the consequences of such “illegal and provocative” measures.
Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.
“Our air space is our red line, and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our air space,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The RQ-4A’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, says on its website that it can fly for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes higher than 10 miles (16 km), with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
The Trump administration sought on Wednesday to rally global support for its pressure on Iran by displaying limpet mine fragments it said came from an oil tanker damaged in the June 13 attacks, saying the ordnance closely resembled mines publicly displayed in Iranian military parades.
European diplomats have said more evidence is needed to pinpoint responsibility for the tanker strikes.
The US sanctions net draped over Iran, scuttling its oil exports and barring it from the dollar-dominated global finance system, have hammered Iran’s economy, undoing the promise of trade rewards from the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear ambitions.
Trump has sent forces including aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers and troops to the Middle East over the past few weeks. Iran said last week it was responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz, calling on American forces to leave the Gulf.
Tehran has also said it will shortly suspend compliance with the nuclear deal’s curbs on its uranium enrichment, meant to block any pathway to nuclear weapons capability, and threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.
But Trump – who sees the nuclear deal as flawed to Iran’s advantage and requiring renegotiation – and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have both said they have no interest in starting a war.
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