Iran said it shot down a U.S. drone that entered its airspace, escalating tensions in a region that’s been on the brink of a military confrontation for weeks. Oil prices surged.
“We will defend Iran’s airspace and maritime boundaries with all our might,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary for the Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as saying by state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency. “It doesn’t matter which country’s aircraft cross our airspace.”
Iranian media described it as a spy drone and said it was hit near Kuh Mobarak, on Iran’s southern coast outside the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The U.S. disputed the account.
Citing an unidentified U.S. official, AP reported that a U.S. Navy high-altitude drone was shot down in international airspace by an Iranian surface-to-air missile over the Strait of Hormuz, an oil shipment chokepoint.
The downing of the drone fanned fears that a military clash between the U.S. and Iran is just a matter of time, stoking tension throughout the Gulf, which supplies one-third of the world’s oil. The region has been volatile since the U.S. tightened sanctions on Iranian oil sales in early May, sent military reinforcements to the region and provoked an increasingly squeezed Iranian government to pull back on some of its commitments under the 2015 deal that was meant to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb.
Washington quit the accord a year ago and reimposed sanctions to try to force Iran to rein back regional proxy militias and its weapons programs.
Frictions flared further last week after an attack on two oil tankers outside the entrance to the Gulf. The U.S. blamed Iran, which has denied involvement. Iran on Monday warned European nations that it would breach the multilateral nuclear accord, which had traded some sanctions relief for limits on Tehran’s nuclear program, as soon as June 27 unless they find a way to circumvent U.S. penalties.
“We are seeing an escalation and the frequency of attacks is concerning even though they are still mostly minor,’’ said Renad Mansour, a research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. “People across the region are starting to make preparation for the possibility of a trigger coming from somewhere.’’