Iran shoots down American drone in "clear message" to U.S.

/ CBS/AP

How "miscalculation" could spur Iran conflict

Both the U.S. and Iran said Thursday that Iranian forces had shot down an American military drone, but the two sides offered conflicting details on the incident, which is likely to further escalate already soaring tensions in the Middle East. A U.S. official has told the AP and Reuters news agencies that a U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton drone was hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, however, has said its elite Revolutionary Guard military unit shot down an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone as it flew over Iran. The U.S. military has denied that any of its aircraft were operating over Iran at the time.

The incidents come amid warnings that an accident or miscommunication in the Persian Gulf could lead to a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, which have been increasingly at odds since President Donald Trump's move last year to pull the U.S. unilaterally out of the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor and other world powers.

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The Trump administration has accused Iran of attacking six tankers in near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping channel through which about a third of the world's oil supply sails every year, during the last month. The drone incident came after the U.S. said Iran had fired a missile at another American drone last week, as it responded to the most recent attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman.

Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks on the tankers in the Gulf. The U.S. has offered mounting evidence allegedly showing Tehran's involvement as it presses allies — and adversaries like Russia — to join in the condemnation of the Iranian regime over the attacks. Russia has accused the U.S. of trying to "provoke a war" with Iran, and urged caution in assigning blame for the tanker attacks.

The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard force said Thursday that the shoot down of the drone was "a clear message" to the U.S., and that while the Islamic Republic does not want a conflict with America, it is "ready for war."

U.S. Navy says evidence links tanker attacks to Iran

In recent weeks, the U.S. has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops, adding to the tens of thousands already in the region. Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched bomb-laden drones into neighboring Saudi Arabia, targeting pipelines and other infrastructure.

Hours before news of the drone shoot down broke on Thursday, the White House said it was aware of reports that a missile fired by the Houthis had struck what U.S. officials called "critical infrastructure" inside Saudi Arabia. A Houthi-run television station in Yemen said the missile had struck a power station in the southern Jizan province.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Trump had been "briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," adding: "We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies."

A White House official confirmed to CBS News that senior officials met at the White House Wednesday night after the reports of the missile strike in Saudi Arabia.

Iran recently has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal. The Trump administration has urged its European allies not to be cowed by Iran's "nuclear blackmail."

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution.

First published on June 20, 2019 / 2:17 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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