President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that a U.S. warship has downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. The incident, which he said occurred Thursday, is a further escalation of tensions between the two countries that have resulted in Trump approving ― and then canceling ― airstrikes against Iran last month.
Although the details of the latest incident are still unclear, Trump claimed that the USS Boxer warship “took defensive action” against an Iranian drone that was within 1,000 yards of the vessel. Trump claimed that the drone did not stand down and was threatening the ship’s safety, and was therefore “immediately destroyed.”
“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump said. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed that he had no information about Iran losing a drone. The drone was not shot out of the sky, a U.S. official told CNN, but instead was brought down using the USS Boxer’s counter-drone jamming equipment.
Earlier on Thursday, Iran announced that it had seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of a dozen people in the Persian Gulf. Iranian state media accused the Panamanian-flagged ship of smuggling fuel and broadcast images of Iranian boats circling the tanker.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been steadily deteriorating since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal that exchanged economic relief for curbs on Iranian nuclear capabilities. Trump instead implemented a “maximum pressure campaign” of harsh sanctions that have damaged Iran’s economy and resulted in Tehran becoming more belligerent rather than give in to U.S. pressure.
The U.S. has accused Iran of sabotaging foreign oil tankers, which Iran denies, and threatening American interests. Meanwhile, the U.S. has deployed more troops to the region, as well as an American aircraft carrier strike group. Several top officials in the Trump administration, most notably national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have additionally taken an aggressive public stance on Iran that has pushed the countries closer to conflict. Trump has also repeatedly threatened Tehran, claiming that the U.S. military is “ready to go” and that Iran can never possess nuclear weapons.
The dispute almost broke into open conflict in June after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone it claimed had violated its airspace, resulting in Trump ordering airstrikes against Iranian targets before ultimately calling them off. But the standoff has remained in place since the near-conflict, and in early July, Iran surpassed the amount of uranium it is allowed to enrich under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.