Iran issued a bellicose warning to the U.S. over the weekend, after American officials disclosed last week that the Islamic republic had tried to shoot down a U.S. drone in international airspace near the Iranian coast on Nov. 1.
“Yes, we opened fire, and it was with warning shots. If they do it again, they can expect an even stronger response,” said Gen. Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, adding that the drone entered Iranian airspace and “had to turn around because of the immediate reaction by fighters of the Revolutionary Guards.”
The Pentagon disclosed Thursday that two Iranian SU-25 “Frogfoot” fighter jets had fired multiple rounds at an unarmed, unmanned U.S. Predator drone that was flying in international airspace 16 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.
The Pentagon’s statement, which came nearly a week after the incident had occurred, prompted questions about why the Obama administration waited to disclose the incident on Nov. 8 — two days after the presidential election.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta were notified very quickly about the incident when it occurred, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
Defense officials on Nov. 2 briefed congressional leaders and staffers of House and Senate Armed Services committees after the facts were gathered and a complete picture was formed, a defense official said.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Friday said it was “inappropriate” for the administration to have waited until after the election — and seven days after the incident — before making it public.
Mr. McCain drew parallels with the administration’s slowness to answer congressional queries about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The Obama administration said it did not discuss the incident because the drone was on a routine but classified mission. Classified missions typically are not disclosed to the public.
Disclosure about the incident only came after an unauthorized leak to the press, Mr. Little told reporters Thursday, about 15 minutes after CNN had reported the incident.
“There was, as you’d expect, some discussion about whether or not to make this known publicly,” a defense official told The Washington Times. “But since this was a classified mission, the decision was made to keep it classified. It’s as simple as that.”
The U.S. is leading an international sanctions regime on Iran’s economy to persuade Iranian leaders to halt their nuclear program, which the West thinks is geared toward making an atomic weapon. Iran has said its nuclear program is designed only for peaceful, civilian purposes.
Iran expert Reza Marashi, director of research for the National Iranian American Council, said the drone incident is only the latest in a long history of provocations between the two nations, and neither side has an incentive to disclose every incident.
“These types of flare-ups happen all the time, whether it’s taking down a drone or assassinations [of Iranian nuclear scientists] or computer viruses or Iran attacking Saudi Aramco … but at the end of the day, the U.S. is not actively seeking to go to war with Iran, and Iran is not actively seeking to enter into a war with the United States,” Mr. Marashi said.
“The more that you publicize the different hostile acts that have become part of the U.S.-Iran ‘Cold War,’ if you will, the more it empowers hard-liners in Washington and Tel Aviv and Tehran who actually prefer conflict,” he said. “But if you keep it internal, then it allows you to calibrate your response. It’s important to note the Iranians did not make it public either, until it came out in the United States.”
“Both sides have an interest in not letting this type of information come to the fore,” Mr. Marashi said. “Both sides want to save face and not look weak on national security to political rivals.”