US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that a US warship destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Mr Trump said the USS Boxer took defensive action after the drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.
The president called it the latest “hostile” action by Iran and urged other countries to condemn what he says are Iran’s attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce in the strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf region.
He said the drone threatened the safety of the American ship and its crew.
I want to apprise everyone of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz today, involving #USSBoxer, a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. The BOXER took defensive action against an Iranian drone…. pic.twitter.com/Zql6nAUGxF
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2019
The Pentagon said in a statement that the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had taken “defensive action” against a drone, but did not mention if the aircraft was Iranian.
The Pentagon said the incident happened at 10am local time on Thursday in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf.
The Boxer is among several US Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.
“A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement.
“The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.”
Tensions in the Gulf region are high, with fears that the United States and Iran could stumble into war.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javas Zarif, in New York for talks at the UN, said on Thursday that Iran will formally and permanently accept enhanced inspections of its nuclear programme, in exchange for the US lifting sanctions.
Speaking before the downing of the drone was announced, he said that the offer was “a substantial move”.
“It’s not about photo ops. We are interested in substance,” he said. “There are other substantial moves that can be made.”
It is unlikely to be warmly received by the Trump administration, which is currently demanding Iran make a range of sweeping concessions, including cessation of uranium enrichment and support for proxies and allies in the region.
“If they [the Trump administration] are putting their money where their mouth is, they are going to do it,” said Mr Zarif. “They don’t need a photo op. They don’t need a two-page document with a big signature.”
The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it’s not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a US warship.
In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the US ships.
Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard’s small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in “swarm attacks.” The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.
Thursday’s incident was the latest in a series of events that raised US-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening US forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf.
In response, the US accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense missile batteries in the Gulf region.
Shortly after Iran shot down a US Navy drone aircraft on June 20, Mr Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any US lives.
Iran claimed the US drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.