Tensions rise as Iran shoots at American predator drone and covert war heats up

US Politics
on 31 Comments
An MQ-1 Predator drone. (Photo: Reuters)

The American and Israeli covert war against Iran has been cranked up a notch over the last few days and representatives of Iran and the Pentagon are engaged in some rhetorical sparring over another drone incident, so far with no independent confirmation of what really happened.

On November 1st two Iranian Su-25 fighter jets fired at a US predator drone off the Iranian coast and then as the drone started to retreat the jets ‘chased it away‘ by doing aerial loops around it before returning to Iran.  Sounds somewhat theatrical.

The Pentagon insists it was engaged in routine maritime surveillance in international airspace . Whether Iran intended to fire at the drone directly or were simply inept and missed their target surprisingly appears to be part of the narrative. A Pentagon spokesperson says “Our working assumption is that they “fired to take it down.”

We were never supposed to hear about it, the information was leaked yesterday. The Pentagon says they routinely don’t inform us as to their goings on (“we routinely do not advertise our classified surveillance missions”). A Pentagon spokesperson, George Little, is insisting  “our aircraft was never in Iranian airspace.” But the Pentagon has a history of being loose with the truth in our dealings with Iranian territorial space, or more politely, “correct facts have not always been initially forthcoming in past.” More on that later.

Mr. Little:

The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters over the Arabian Gulf, consistent with longstanding practice and our commitment to the security of the region.

The Arabian Gulf ? Take that Iran!

Today General Massoud Jazayeri, an Iranian senior armed forces commander issued a stern warning:

“The defenders of the Islamic Republic will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground,” Fars news agency quoted General Massoud Jazayeri, a senior armed forces commander, as saying on Friday.

“If any foreign aircraft attempts to enter our airspace our armed forces will deal with them,”

Christian Science Monitor:

“There is absolutely no precedence for this. This is the first time that a [drone] has been fired upon to our knowledge by Iranian aircraft,” said Mr. Little.

Note, Iran did bring down the CIA’s drone last year though. In their report today the Washington Post claimed that drone “crashed” and Iran said they shot it down, which we know isn’t true and even their supporting link does not confirm. They completely evade admitting it was captured intact reconfiguring the drone’s GPS coordinates.

More from CSM’s Scott Peterson on the truthieness factor:

Two decades earlier, the US Navy was found to have covered up critical details of the 1988 shooting down by the USS Vincennes of an Iranian commercial jet over the Persian Gulf, which killed all 290 on board.

A Newsweek investigation found the official Pentagon investigation to be a “pastiche of omission, half-truths, and outright deceptions” that amounted to a “cover-up approved at the top.”

Among a host of other issues, the US Navy attempted to prove to Congress – using altered maps – that the USS Vincennes was in international waters at the time, when it was in fact inside Iranian waters, in violation of international law.

Meanwhile both sides are jostling war games to bolster their upcoming diplomacy. Iran is poised for another series of war games called the Defenders of Velayat Skies 4:

The 7-day maneuver dubbed “Modafe’an-e Aseman-e Velayat 4,” (Defenders of Velayat Skies 4) will be held later in November with the participation of units from the IRGC and other forces of the Army, Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli told reporters today.

He added that the military exercise will be carried out in an area of more than 850,000 square kilometers to display the full strength and preparedness of Iran’s air defense forces to defend the Islamic Republic’s eastern borders.

The Iranian commander noted that various long-range radars and electronic surveillance systems will be tested during the drill, and added that the maneuver will display Iran’s defense policies in the air defense sector.

He added that the units would practice modern tactics in proportion to the recent threats made in certain parts of the world.

In May, Lieutenant Commander of the Army’s Ground Force Brigadier General Kioumars Heidari stated that the Iranian Army plans to unveil and put into operation Iran’s first home-made Cobra chopper in special wargames of the Army’s Airborne unit in the near future.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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31 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    November 9, 2012, 1:27 pm

    Glenn Greenwald has an excellent article on this in the Guardian Here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/08/cnn-iran-drones-gulf First things first: let us pause for a moment to extend our thoughts and prayers to this US drone. Although it was not physically injured, being shot at by the Iranians – while it was doing nothing other than peacefully minding its own business – must have been a very traumatic experience. I think I speak on behalf of everyone, regardless of political views, when I say that we all wish this brave hero a speedy recovery and hope it is back in full health soon, protecting our freedom.

    • piotr
      November 9, 2012, 9:49 pm

      I think that Glenn is a bit too hard on WP who wrote this: “That red line is indeed international airspace, but it’s also very close to Iranian soil. This of course doesn’t make it okay for Iran to try to shoot the drone down, but it’s worth considering how that proximity might be perceived by an Iranian leadership that already feels under siege and threatened by the much more powerful United States.

      Last year, a U.S. drone crashed 140 miles within Iran’s eastern border.”

      A truly patriotic journalist would not try to guess or consider how the scum in Iran may perceive our glorious aircraft. They should be in awe and count their blessings that they are allowed to watch something so splendiferous. And concerning the crashed drone Obama asked very nicely to returned it and did they? They are simply thieves and cowards.

      • Accentitude
        November 11, 2012, 2:21 am

        Let me try to understand your logic. They (the Iranians) are theives and cowards because a U.S. military drone was flying around in their airspace last year, probably snapping photos, shooting videos and doing other recon to collect intel and most likely feed it to the warmongers who are pushing for a war with Iran? Knowing that the drone was collecting intel on the Iranians, why would they return it to the Americans? There are no diplomaticc relationships between the two countries to warrant a return. Certainly the United States would never return a downed Iranian drone that was flying over the Pentagon. Hell, the Israelis, who are notorioius for their theft of American intel, would never return anything either. So why do you expect that the Iranians would do so? Its in the interest of their national security, as it should be, that they would not return it and would dissect it to figure out what it was doing there in the first place.

  2. Les
    November 9, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Instead of Mad Magazine’s spy versus spy, its Pentagon versus Pentagon:

    “retreated from Iranian air space” versus “Our aircraft was never in Iranian airspace”


  3. bobsmith
    November 9, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Since when is the U.S. government defending moving about in international airspace and waters? It couldn’t even be bothered to complain when a U.S. citizen was murdered by Israel on the Mavi Marmara.

  4. Kathleen
    November 9, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Dr. Zbig and others have warned about a false flag operation. Some excuse to attack Iran. And remember what Dr. Zbig said if Israel decides to pre-emptively attack Iran. Go up and meet them in the air, do not let them use U.S. controlled airspace

  5. BillM
    November 9, 2012, 3:35 pm

    This is a minor incident. The Iranians missed the drone. Likely it was on purpose, and they just intended a “shot across the bow.” They obviously timed this to warn the US that they can make political trouble by controlling the temperature of events and raising it at their own choosing. The US military didn’t over react, and kept the incident under wraps until the election was safely in the bag, thus demonstrating the Obama Admin thinks it has more control of events that Iran.

    Everyone sent their little message and understood what the other side was saying. A minor event.

    • Annie Robbins
      November 9, 2012, 3:51 pm

      They obviously timed this to warn the US that they can make political trouble by controlling the temperature of events

      iow you believe the pentagon when they say they didn’t invade iranian airspace? what if they did? you know, according to CNN they have a video confirming all the coordinates and they are not releasing it. perhaps it’s the US initiating and attempting to control the temperature of events (turning it up). what do you think we would do if iran had drones spying off our coast line?

      and kept the incident under wraps until the election was safely in the bag, thus demonstrating the Obama Admin thinks it has more control of events that Iran.

      not in my book.

      The Iranians missed the drone.

      oh please. they were doing whirlies around it. had they wanted to shoot it down they could have.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 9, 2012, 4:06 pm

        bill, i just noticed you wrote “demonstrating the Obama Admin thinks it has more control of events that Iran”

        that could be the case. but i was impressed with the whirlies.

      • Inanna
        November 9, 2012, 8:46 pm

        Annie, I agree with BillM this was minor. Drone surveillance is regular and routine over that part of the world, including US surveillance inside Iranian airspace. The fact that Iran made a big deal out of this one was to send a message right before the election – they didn’t want to shoot it down just let the US know that if it wants do anything sneaky, the Iranians are watching and that everything will not go the American’s way.

        I don’t agree with BillM that the Obama admin has control of the temperature of events. If this hadn’t leaked out, the Pentagon wouldn’t have had to backtrack and make up a nice story. This was a failed US surveillance (?) mission that they are trying to dress up.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 9, 2012, 11:10 pm

        The fact that Iran made a big deal out of this one was to send a message right before the election

        ok, maybe i missed something in the coverage. what i heard from iran was silence until the story was ‘leaked’. and like greenwald, i tend to think it was ‘leaked’ by our team. re cnn “Its Pentagon reporter parrots significant, inflammatory government claims without an iota of skepticism or balance”

        if the US was inside iranian airspace iran had every right to send it back, which is what they did (and shooting at a machine is not an act of war, if it was within their airspace they had every right to completely dismantle it in the most efficient way possible, which they did not do ). no one need know anything about it and iran seemed quite content to say nothing, especially knowing there was an election brewing. the decision to do some flips in the air could have been made by cocky pilots, or whatever, it signifies nothing but a little prowess. the ‘rhetorical sparring’ didn’t begin until after the ‘leak’ and in response, after the pentagon statement.

        i agree it’s not a big deal and didn’t argue it was. but the leak, the implications of the leak ..offers us what? merely a ratcheting up the discourse initiated by the US.

        if the US stated, in response to foreign drones conducting surveillance over US airspace The US will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground, If any foreign aircraft attempts to enter our airspace our armed forces will deal with them would that be considered ‘the US made a big deal out of this’ ? i do not think iran made a big deal out of this, i would think their actions are routine. had they shot it down, had it been manned and they shot it down, i wouldn’t be saying that.

        it just means ‘stay out of our airspace.’

        i did not intend for the article to sound alarming which is why i wrote “cranked up a notch” “Sounds somewhat theatrical” and referenced it as “rhetorical sparring”. it would have been relegated to the ‘non issue’ category if not for the leak and the big press conference and msm coverage. then it becomes a ‘thing’.

      • Kathleen
        November 9, 2012, 11:56 pm

        But Israel and the neocons would really like to take a minor event and turn it into a major event. Looking for an event to attack Iran over.

      • Inanna
        November 10, 2012, 5:28 pm

        Sorry Annie, I wasn’t clear. In saying that Iran made a big deal out of this, I meant that they fired on and gave chase, not that they made it public or leaked it to the media. They were sending a message to the US administration, not to the global media.

        More than likely the leak was embarrassing to the Pentagon and administration because the incident was embarrassing to them. The US military sees itself as totally in control and dominant so to be pushed back by Iran, even over a drone, is a kick in the ass. Not major but not pleasant. Like you, I am interested in why someone on the US side leaked this but to informed military and diplomatic eyes, it’s an embarrassment to the US. That is why the rest of their statement about ‘respond decisively to any form of encroachment’ blah blah blah is just bluster to cover their embarrassment. It was the US doing the encroaching, after all (and the biggest clue to what one party is doing is looking at what it accuses the other party of doing). Either this came out by accident or by design and if it was by design, then whoever did it was either very stupid or did not realize just how bad this would make the US look.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 10, 2012, 6:28 pm

        That is why the rest of their statement about ‘respond decisively to any form of encroachment’ blah blah blah is just bluster to cover their embarrassment.

        now it is me who wasn’t clear inanna. those were the iranian commanders words after the story was leaked and the US had a press conference about it (blockquoted in the story above). my point re “if the US stated” was it didn’t seem like an unusual or inflammatory thing for iran to say under the circumstances. there were some other statements made by Iran’s Defense Minister available at CSM’s 3 pg article (which i think is very good coverage btw)


        The near-clash comes at a moment of heightened tension and expectations between Iran, the US, Israel, and Western powers. Secret US-Iran meetings have reportedly preceded a resumption of talks later this month about Iran’s controversial nuclear program; the US is imposing more sanctions, and Iran has been the target of a lethal covert war.

        then he mentions the drone brought down last year and says Until that point, the very existence of the CIA’s bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel drone – never mind its operations over Iran – was classified.

        the country is suffering under harsh sanctions and there are constant warnings of an attack. i think their point is ‘get your drones away from here’. i think iranians were able to figure out the GPS coordinates on the previous occasion because the US routinely flies drones along iran’s afghan border which presumably doesn’t have the 12 mile limit but i don’t know if we routinely have our drones over iran, as bill assumes (“CONSTANTLY”) and i don’t how bill knows this since it is classified. but if that’s the case, then how would we know what iran normally does, if it’s classified?

        under the circumstances, i am beginning to think it was perhaps leaked as a diversion the day before the friday news dump about petreaus, which i suspect is about a whole lot more than an affair, considering the congressional inquiry about benghazi coming up. not clear what’s going on but i think it is more than meets the eye. anyway, it’s fine with me if we just agree to disagree about this.

      • BillM
        November 9, 2012, 11:40 pm

        Annie, I suspect American drones are more or less CONSTANTLY in Iranian airspace. Hell, we’ve admitted we have them there monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites, and Iran forced one down basically intact. They clearly didn’t do that randomly; they must have been studying the drone profiles for months.

        We constantly have drones over Iran. Iran knows this. Generally speaking, they don’t fire, in part because they don’t want to expose their air defenses and let the US know what they are really capable of. In this case, Iran chose to fire, but used ground attack aircraft. They were clearly holding their better air-to-air fighters back, again to avoid giving the US any information about their real capabilities. But the fact they chose to fire a few days before the election cannot be considered coincidental.

      • Inanna
        November 10, 2012, 5:29 pm

        Agreed BillM.

    • ToivoS
      November 9, 2012, 5:50 pm

      BillM agree with you that this turned out to be a minor event. The significance of this story is that one of these days some minor provocation will set the spark that ignites war. That is why tensions in the region need to cooled — leaving the Persian Gulf on a permanent status just short of all out war just can’t work. It is a highly unstable situation and the only way that this can be defused is for some kind of negotiated settlement. I think Obama realizes this.

      • BillM
        November 9, 2012, 11:44 pm

        Now that I agree with. I think it was INTENDED to be minor and it worked out that way, but it an extremely dangerous game when played with real weapons. The more of these little games that go on, the more likely someone is to miscalculate and start something they can’t stop.

        I think Obama does realize this, but I haven’t seen any moves on his part toward a way out. He keeps racheting up the tension, and his negotiating position leaves little option except a humiliating and extremely unlikely Iranian climb-down.

      • seafoid
        November 10, 2012, 4:05 am

        I see Petraeus has resigned as CIA head. Does anyone have any idea what is going on ?

      • Annie Robbins
        November 10, 2012, 8:35 am

        seafoid, my strong hunch is that it’s related to benghazi.


      • ToivoS
        November 10, 2012, 2:00 pm

        Annie I think that is the best explanation. It will likely take 50 years before the real story is revealed.

        It seemed an obvious supposition that the militia that attacked the Benghazi “consulate” had been in direct contact with CIA agents that had been working out of that front. This is the simplest explanation for the rapid removal of 30 agents within hours after the attack. The CIA had to make an inglorious hasty retreat in the face of adversity. Inside the spook world this must have been a very humiliating experience.

        Further evidence that US intelligence has no idea who they can trust in Libya is the fact that the FBI forensic team we sent to Tripoli very likely had not visited the consulate six weeks after the attack and probably haven’t to this day.

        This should have been a major scandal and the fact that Romney succeeded in turning it into campaign issue must have infuriated the administration.

        If this line of reasoning is correct I think we can be confident that Hillary, Rice and Powers at state will be removed as graciously as possible as the architects of this failed Libyan policy.

        Did anyone else notice that when the story was first breaking some sources implied that the FBI were already investigating the Petraeus-Broadmore relationship even before he was picked to be D-CIA? I notice that this is definitely not the story in today’s NYT — they are explicit that this was known only in the last month and Obama didn’t hear about it until the day after the election. Now that sounds like a real hoot. The NYT piece, which is obviously based on interviews with admin officials, doesn’t display the slightest bit of skepticism.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 10, 2012, 6:41 pm

        The NYT piece, which is obviously based on interviews with admin officials, doesn’t display the slightest bit of skepticism.
        the nyt is quite adept at facilitating bs diversions and doing favors.that means nothing.

        This is the simplest explanation for the rapid removal of 30 agents within hours after the attack.

        i didn’t think it sounded rapid. i thought it took 2 hrs. and the back up didn’t show up for 19 hrs or something. they were not removed from libya quickly in my estimation. but i would have brush up on the details.

        i am very suspicious about what happened and coupled with the use of the film as a diversion for the attack brings in a whole host of unsavory characters into view. plus the reliance of the disaster in romney’s campaign rhetoric coupled with the history of the gop and the cia using disasters (iran hostage crisis) to benefit political campaigns really puts this whole thing over my guess-ability level.

      • seafoid
        November 11, 2012, 2:47 pm

        It all looks very murky. I feel sorry for Mrs Petraeus.

    • valency
      November 10, 2012, 3:31 pm

      Like other commentators said, they were circling it. The SU-25 pilots could have killed it at any time with their 30mm cannons. This was a shot across the bow to warn the drone operator he was getting too close. If the situation was reversed, we’d all be congratulating ourselves about our admirable restraint. How relaxed would the US be about Cuba flying drones 16 miles off the coast of Florida?

  6. pabelmont
    November 9, 2012, 6:58 pm

    Why is the USA so adamant to deny the drone was inside Iran’s airspace? We routinely invade airspace of Pakistan — against that country’s wishes. We are not respecters of I/L, and we can recall the U-2 spy-plane (yesterday’s drone) that was shot down over USSR so many years ago.

  7. talknic
    November 9, 2012, 9:54 pm

    One wonders what the US would do if Iran was in the Gulf of Mexico conducting aerial surveillance in International Airspace?

    • Citizen
      November 10, 2012, 7:21 am

      Imagine if the US had to bear the heavy economic sanctions as Iran is doing now.

  8. Citizen
    November 10, 2012, 7:19 am

    I read that US officials said the Iranian air space extends 12 miles out over the Gulf waters from the Iranian coast, and that the Iranians shot towards the drone when it was 16 miles out over the Gulf waters. What a major pretextual match for the huge tinderbox, eh?

    • ToivoS
      November 10, 2012, 1:20 pm

      Coast lines are fractals while the 12 mile line is smooth. Achieving smooth requires international consensus. Also the incident seems to have occurred near the Iraq-Iran border. I have read specifically that there is no international agreement on how that line extends into the Persian Gulf. In general this can be an extremely difficult problem.

  9. mcohen
    November 10, 2012, 7:47 am

    Drones and petraeus go hand in hand so thats the real story including libya.watch the syrian civil war slowly peter out.
    The wave came at a crucial time before the election and changed everything
    What can i say -the hand of G-d or just coincidence
    Who knows but one thing is for sure we are now moving on the altetnate path

  10. edwin
    November 10, 2012, 10:33 am

    Since when did Israel wait until aid ships were within 12 miles of Israel (Wherever the —- those borders are) before boarding?

    Ops! – Sorry. Wrong topic. :)

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