Through a statement on its website, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Tuesday claimed that it recently captured a U.S. ScanEagle drone flying in its airspace. The IRGC did not specify when or how the drone was caught, but released video of what it claimed were officers examining a ScanEagle. Behind the drone was a large poster that read, “We will trample America under our feet” — a quote from Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. A spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain denied the claim.
This incident is the latest case involving Iran and U.S. drones. Last year, Iran claimed it forced down a RQ-170 Sentinel drone and last month the Pentagon announced that Tehran shot at a U.S. drone for the first time.
This image taken from the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel Al-Alam shows what Iran purports to be an intact ScanEagle drone aircraft. (Photo: AP)
According to reports this week, Tehran suggested that the drone it shot at last month was spying on its Bushehr nuclear reactor — a claim U.S. officials deny. However, American officials have acknowledged an increase in drone surveillance on Bushehr over the last two months. This increase was due to Tehran withdrawing all of the nuclear fuel from the reactor in October — usually part of normal operations, but not within two months of a reactor becoming operational. It is estimated that the discharged fuel, if reprocessed further, would be enough to make as many as 24 nuclear bombs; however, it is not believed that Tehran has that reprocessing capability. According to Iran’s nuclear chief, the fuel was removed because of debris left inside during the reactor’s construction. The plant has since refueled.
While the latest drone incidents have ended relatively peacefully, the ever-shortening time table in which Iran can potentially enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon will only bring with it rising tensions — and an increase in potentially dangerous episodes — between Tehran and Washington.