Caricature by DonkeyHotey flic.kr/p/Ct4G4K https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

In a new sign of the escalating tensions in the region, Fox News has reported that a U.S. high-altitude drone was shot down early Thursday by an Iranian surface-to-air missile over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA, reported that the drone had flown into “its airspace in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRG) confirmed the shooting.” According to the news agency, an IRG commander said it sends “‘a clear message’ to the U.S. and while Iran has no intention of war with anyone, it’s ‘ready for war.'” We would expect nothing less from the IRG, which the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

Fox reports:

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C drone, which has the same wingspan as a Boeing 737, was over international airspace at the time and about 17 miles from Iran, the source said.

Capt. Bill Urban, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, declined to comment on the reported attack when reached by the AP, but he said no drone was over Iranian territory.

The U.S. said Iran fired a missile at another drone last week that responded to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf.

Another senior U.S. official told Fox News last week that an MQ9 Reaper drone was fired on by the Iranians shortly after it arrived at the scene where the MV Altair tanker sent out a distress signal.

This incident follows hard on the heels of last week’s attack on two oil tankers, one Norwegian-owned and the other Japanese-owned, in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. intelligence sources believe that Iran was responsible for that attack. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo based his assessment on “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

It’s unclear what the U.S. response to this latest provocation will be. President Trump characterized last week’s tanker attacks as “very minor.”

Iran has denied responsibility even though the U.S. released video footage showing a Iranian military boat pulling up to the Japanese tanker, then removing an object (believed to be a mine) from the hull.

European leaders have been reluctant to place blame on Iran for the attacks. A spokesperson for the EU said Tuesday that there was insufficient evidence to blame Iran.

Surprisingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is not exactly one of Trump’s greatest fans, spoke at a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday. She said: “We take these acts very seriously, there is strong evidence” [that Iran carried out attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.] She also warned Iran of consequences if it violated the 2015 international nuclear deal. She added that Germany would tell all sides and especially Iran, “that the situation should not escalate.”

Now that it has indeed escalated, what, if any, action will be taken?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appeared on Fox News “Special Report” on Wednesday (prior to news of the drone attack) and said, “If Iran attacks shipping again, US should consider taking out their Navy, oil refineries.”

Stay tuned.