Home inContext Iran Emboldened, Fires at U.S. Drone

Iran Emboldened, Fires at U.S. Drone

Joshua Ely

Iranian jets fired at an unmanned, unarmed U.S. predator drone on November 1, the Pentagon announced last week. The drone was left unharmed and returned safely to its base. The exact location of the drone when it came under fire has become a matter of debate. While the Pentagon maintains that the aircraft was 16 nautical miles from the Iranian coast, Tehran claims it was inside Iranian airspace. The Pentagon also said the drone was pursued “for several miles” and fired at multiple times.

The incident marks the first time Tehran fired on an American drone, pointing to an increasing willingness to act boldly against the U.S. It also marks a step-up in seriousness from previous encounters, such as the 2008 naval incident in which Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats swarmed and made threatening moves toward three U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz, and the disputed circumstances that led to the Iranian capture of a U.S. surveillance drone nearly one year ago. Following the shooting, deputy commander of Iran’s armed forces, General Massoud Jazayeri, stated that Iran would “give a decisive response to any air, land and naval attacks.” The U.S. has told Iran it will continue conducting drone flights in the region, in a message communicated through the Swiss embassy.

A Predator drone like the one that the Pentagon says Iran fired upon, but did not hit. (Photo: Julianne Showalter/U.S. Airforce via AFP/Getty Images)

Less than one week after the Pentagon’s acknowledgement of the attack, in another demonstration of force for the outside world, Iran announced it is holding multiple days of military exercises. Tuesday, the second day, was marked by the unveiling of new missile and artillery systems, although Western experts often note that Iran likes to exaggerate its capabilities. That same day, however, Iran’s military exercises involved firing a missile at a drone and destroying it, somewhat mirroring the November 1 incident. According to the Associated Press, footage of the drill showed a Hawk missile hitting a mock aircraft. Iranian air defense chief Gen. Farzad Esmaili called the maneuvers “a message and a strong slap” to the U.S and Israel.

While dismissed as bluster, Iran’s increasing boldness against U.S. interests should be of serious concern. This month, the Iranian attack missed its target; next time, a direct hit could start a grave confrontation.