US officials confirm a drone has been shot down but say the incident happened in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz © EPA

Iran shoots down US drone aircraft

Monavar Khalaj in Tehran and Siddarth Shrikanth in Hong Kong and Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it had shot down a US drone aircraft, further escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington and sending oil prices sharply higher.

The guard announced on Thursday that its air force “targeted and shot down a Global Hawk, a US spy aircraft, when it violated the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran” early on Thursday, according to the official IRNA news agency.

US officials confirmed a drone had been shot down but said the incident happened in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important shipping routes for oil and gas. One US official told Reuters that the drone was a US Navy MQ-4C Triton.

General Hossein Salami, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, speaking on Iranian state television after the incident said the shooting down of the drone “sent a clear message” to America.

Brent crude oil hit its highest level of the month after the incident. The international oil marker was up 2.7 per cent at $63.53 per barrel, setting it on course for its biggest single-session rise since April.

As Washington ordered more US troops to the region this week, the incident threatens to exacerbate already heightened tensions given US warnings of a strong response to any Iranian attacks on its interests.

The Revolutionary Guard said the US unmanned surveillance aircraft was shot down in the southern Iranian province of Hormuzgan, which is located near the Strait of Hormuz.

The incident comes after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week, with the US and Saudi Arabia blaming Iran for the incidents. Iran has denied any involvement.

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The US has previously reported this month that one of its drones was downed in Yemen by an Iran-allied Houthi missile; another Iranian missile failed to strike another US drone that had been monitoring one of the two tankers.

President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said that the US apportioning of blame, which was supported by “the UK and one or two small countries in the region”, was “a political game and propaganda” against a country that “has been protecting and safeguarding the waterway throughout history for thousands of years”.

Iran announced on Monday that it would soon exceed limits on its enriched uranium stockpile agreed in the 2015 agreement.

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The US and Iran have locked horns since the president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers last year and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran that have severely affected Iran’s ability to export oil and plunged the republic into a deep recession.

Rising tensions have prompted the US to deploy 1,000 more troops to the region this year, a month after it had deployed an aircraft carrier strike group together with bombers and additional troops to the region. The latest US military deployment includes a Patriot missile battalion, drones and manned surveillance aircraft.

The US said these forces would help protect US personnel already in the Middle East, saying the goal was deterrence, not war.

While senior Iranian officials have also said that Tehran does not intend to wage war, they have nonetheless pledged to fight back decisively against any invasion.

Diplomats fear a miscalculation that could trigger escalation and turn a tense confrontation into conflict.

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Brigadier General Hossein Salami said this week that “sometimes the enemy is so close to us that we can read the number written on their weapon”.

As tensions rise in the Gulf, the Houthi militia in Yemen said late on Wednesday that it had struck a Saudi power station with a cruise missile.

Saudi Arabia has not commented on the alleged attack, which the Houthis said hit a facility in the southern city of Al-Shuqaiq, about 200km from the border with Yemen.

The incident, if confirmed, would mark another broadening of the Houthis’ targeting of Saudi facilities, highlighting the vulnerability of civilian infrastructure.

The Houthis in May launched a drone strike on a Saudi oil pipeline, ratcheting up concerns about security of supply. Earlier this month, the militia also hit an airport in the southern city of Abha with a cruise missile or drone, injuring 26.

The kingdom’s missile defences have also repelled further drone and missile attacks in recent weeks.

The war in Yemen has become a bloody crucible in the regional proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A Saudi-led coalition launched a large-scale intervention in 2015 attempting to restore to power the government ousted by the Houthis.

The war has ground down into a stalemate, with an estimated 90,000 dead and the impoverished state facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

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