Washington • Iranian warplanes shot at a U.S. military surveillance drone flying over the Persian Gulf near Iran last week, Pentagon officials disclosed Thursday. They said that the aircraft, a Predator drone, was flying in international airspace and was not hit and that the episode had prompted a strong protest to the Iranian government.
The shooting, which involved two Russian-made Su-25 jets knowns as Frogfoots, occurred Nov. 1 and was the first known instance of Iranian warplanes firing on a U.S. surveillance drone. George Little, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department’s weeklong silence about the episode was the result of restrictions on the discussion of classified surveillance missions. He answered questions about it during a Pentagon news conference Thursday only after it had been reported by news organizations earlier in the day.
Even so, the failure to disclose a hostile encounter with Iran’s military at a time of increased international tensions over the disputed Iranian nuclear program — and five days before the U.S. presidential election — raises questions for the Obama administration. Had the Iranian attack been disclosed before Election Day, it is likely to have been viewed in a political context — interpreted either as sign of the administration’s weakness or, conversely, as an opportunity for President Barack Obama to demonstrate leadership.
Late last year, an RQ-170 surveillance drone operated by the CIA rather than the military crashed deep inside Iranian territory while on a mission that is believed to have been intended to map suspected nuclear sites. That episode came to light only after Iran bragged that it had electronically attacked the drone and guided it to a landing inside its borders. U.S. officials said the drone had crashed after a technical malfunction.
On Thursday, U.S. officials also announced new sanctions that broadened the blacklist of Iranian individuals and institutions affected by laws freezing or blocking access to property and other assets.
The latest entries on the list include Iran’s communications minister, Reza Taqipour; the head of the Iranian national police, Esma’il Ahmadi Moghaddam; as well as Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which State and Treasury department officials accused of jamming satellite broadcasts, disrupting Internet activities, censoring news media and intimidating and detaining journalists.