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Escalating regional tensions as Iran strikes down U.S. Global Hawk

Both the U.S. and Iran confirmed on Thursday that Iranian forces had shot down an American military surveillance drone. However the details of the incident offered by both parties are clashing. This is likely to further escalate already soaring tensions in the Middle East.

Argument offered by Iran –

Iran said its elite Revolutionary Guard shot down an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone as it flew over southern Iran. Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued a condemnation of the purported violation of its airspace and warned of a strong reaction to what it called a “provocative” act by the U.S.

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.”

Also Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks on the tankers in the Gulf.

Argument offered by U.S. –

Some days ago U.S. also accused Iran for attacking two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and also showed mounting evidence for the same; the United States has now accused the country of shooting down an unmanned surveillance aircraft in international airspace. The United States counters that the incident was an “unprovoked attack” and that the aircraft had been traveling in international airspace.

About the downed drone, ‘RQ-4A Global Hawk’-

In technical terms, the drone that Iran shot down was a U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) aircraft, which is a Navy version of the Air Force’s high-flying RQ-4A Global Hawk. In simple terms, it is an unmanned aircraft that is intended for surveillance at sea. Some facts about the aircraft are:

  • Global Hawk drones are unarmed are used only to collect information. To do this, they fly at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet. At that height, the drone can see beyond the curvature of the Earth.
  •  “It flies at a very high altitude, so the fact that the Iranians were able to shoot it down shows that they have some pretty significant capabilities. In some ways, the shoot down is a signaling mechanism to the United States that Iran is more capable than we might have assumed.” said a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University.
  • Global Hawks are also expensive, costing $220 million. According to the military this is more than 10 times the price of drones like the Predator and Reaper.
  • Global Hawks may be used for surveillance, but they’re not considered to be stealth aircraft. The drone has a 130-ft wingspan, similar to a Boeing 737 passenger jet. It is large, heavy and slow compared to combat aircraft.
  • They’re not fast. They have a high profile and can be easily observable on radar. They’re purposely designed to fly slowly at high altitudes to collect as much data as possible.
  • Such an aircraft would be carrying advanced technology such as high definition and infra-red cameras, as well as sensors that can intercept telephone and radio chatter.
  • This kind of aircraft would be sent on missions to conduct maritime surveillance or to peer inside a country from outside its borders.

Reaction of the other world powers to the soaring tension:

  • Russia – The U.S. by offered mounting evidence allegedly showing Tehran’s involvement in the tanker attacks presses allies and adversaries like Russia — to join in the condemnation of the Iranian regime over the attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a U.S.-Iran war “would be a catastrophe, for the region at least. It could lead to an outburst of violence and increase the number of refugees from the region.”

Russia however accused U.S. of trying to “provoke a war” with Iran, and urged caution in assigning blame for the tanker attacks. It rejected the evidence put forth by the U.S.

  • Moscow– The country’s security services would carry out their own investigation into the attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

  • Germany– At a meeting in Paris on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the situation was “extremely serious” in the Gulf, with the “threat of war still present.” He said Germany’s preferred approach was “diplomacy first.”

  • France– President Emmanuel Macron had sent a senior diplomatic adviser to Tehran to try and defuse the tension between Iran and Washington. Emmanuel Bonne held “high-level meetings” on Wednesday in Tehran, “with the aim of contributing to the de-escalation of tensions in the region,”

President Trump on Thursday ordered the U.S. military to conduct a limited strike against Iran to retaliate for the downing of a Navy surveillance drone in the Persian Gulf region, but he then called off the operation in the evening for reasons that remained unclear on Friday morning.

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