What We Know About Iran Shooting Down a U.S. Drone

Iran shot down an American spy drone early Thursday. On that, the United States and Iran agree.

The crucial matter, though, is whether that drone ventured into Iranian airspace, as Tehran asserts, or whether it stayed in international airspace, as the United States asserts.

  • The drone was unmanned and unarmed. The RQ-4A Global Hawk drone is essentially a high-altitude robot used for surveillance over the ocean and coastal areas.

  • The drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. Both United States Central Command and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps say the high-altitude drone was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. That is a demonstration by the Iranians that they have that capability, something the United States will take note of in the future.

  • This escalates the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Ever since President Trump pulled the United States out of a nuclear agreement between Iran and five other nations last year, and hit Iran with sanctions that have largely choked off their oil exports, the two adversaries have gone back and forth toward increased conflict. The United States says that last week Iran attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a charge that Iran denies.

  • Did the drone venture into Iranian airspace? This is key. In the battle for global public opinion, and more important, for rallying allies, this question will have to be answered. The United States finally gave GPS coordinates late Thursday evening for the location of the drone when it was shot down, 21 miles, Central Command said, from the Iranian coast in the Strait of Hormuz.

    The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posted on Twitter earlier on Thursday what he said were the coordinates for where the American drone was targeted. “(25°59’43”N 57°02’25”E)” he tweeted, “near Kouh-e Mobarak.”

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