A U.S. military drone operating over international waters in the Persian Gulf was pursued by an Iranian military aircraft on March 12, according to the Pentagon.
The MQ-1 Predator drone, which was accompanied by two manned U.S. military airplanes, was conducting a classified surveillance flight in international airspace when it was approached by an Iranian F-4 jet that came within 16 miles (26 kilometers) of the unmanned plane, Pentagon spokesman George Little said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. After a “verbal warning” from the U.S., the Iranian plane broke off, according to the statement.
The incident is the latest in episodes going back to December 2011, when Iran said it captured a stealthy U.S. drone. In November 2012, the Pentagon said Iranian aircraft had fired on an unarmed Predator drone that was conducting routine surveillance over international waters.
After the incident in November, “the United States communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters consistent with long-standing practice and our commitment to the security of the region,” Little said in the statement. “We also communicated that we reserve the right to protect our military assets as well as our forces and will continue to do so going forward.”
The latest incident was reported earlier yesterday by CNN.
International tensions over the Persian Gulf have increased as the U.S. and allies have tightened economic sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to abandon elements of its nuclear program they say could be used to develop an atomic bomb. Last year, Iranian officials periodically threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which leads into the gulf and through which about 20 percent of the world’s oil transits.