Iran captured a U.S. drone that was flying in the country’s airspace, its media reported on Tuesday, a claim that was quickly denied by the U.S. Navy.
No U.S. drone has been lost in the Gulf recently, a U.S. Navy spokesman said after Iran said on Tuesday it had captured a U.S. intelligence-gathering drone in its airspace in the last few days.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said a ScanEagle drone was gathering information over the Gulf and had entered Iranian airspace when it was "captured".
"The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space," a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said.
"We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently."
Fars agency said the drone was captured sometime “in the last few days.” It was not clear how it was captured.
“These kinds of aircraft are normally launched from large ships,” said Ali Fadavi, the IRGC’s naval commander, according to Fars.
The ScanEagle is manufactured by Boeing Co. According to the firm’s website, the drone is four feet long and has a 10-foot (three-meter) wingspan.
In November, the United States said Iranian warplanes shot at a U.S. surveillance drone flying in international airspace. Iran said the aircraft had entered its airspace, and said it would respond “decisively” to any foreign encroachments into its airspace.
Also last month, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to complain about repeated U.S. violations of Iranian airspace, describing them as “illegal and provocative acts.”
Khazaee claimed that U.S. craft had entered southern Iran seven times in October around Bushehr where Iran’s only nuclear power station is situated.
The United States and Iran are locked in an ongoing dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies believe Tehran is trying to develop an atomic bomb, while Iran says its program is purely peaceful.
Israel has threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop its nuclear activities.
In October, Israel shot down an Iranian-made drone launched into the Jewish state by Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah.