Iran’s warplanes fire on US surveillance drone

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Iranian warplanes launched an unprecedented attack on a US surveillance drone over the Gulf last week, highlighting how tensions in the densely militarised region could spin rapidly out of control.

But the strike – revealed late on Thursday – is unlikely to derail an expected diplomatic drive to defuse the stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear program, analysts said yesterday

“Maybe Iran was showing a bit of muscle before the talks, but more likely this was a chance military skirmish,” said Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at Birmingham University.

The US and Iran gave conflicting accounts of the incident which came in the pre-dawn hours of 1 November, just days before the US presidential election. Both president Barack Obama and US defence secretary Leon Panetta were woken early to be informed.

Washington insists its Predator drone was fired on in international airspace east of Kuwait. Tehran maintains its airspace was violated. Just four miles separates those boundaries.

Military experts said the drone was probably equipped with radar capable of photographing Iranian installations.

Revolutionary Guards general Masoud Jazayeri, said yesterday Iran would respond strongly to any ground, sea or air “invasion”.

Pentagon chief spokesman George Little, the said two Iranian Russian-built SU25s had fired on the drone.