WASHINGTON – Iran captured two US maritime drones operating in the Red Sea on Thursday, three US defense officials said, the latest naval incident in a string of late-season tensions. summer between Washington and Tehran.
An official said that the crew of the Iranian naval ship captured the drones, Saildrone Explorers that were operating in close proximity, loaded the ships onto their warship, the Jamaran, and covered them with tarpaulins.
At a request from the US Navy, the Iranian crew released the drone Friday morning, officials said.
This is the second incident this week, following an Iranian attempt in the Persian Gulf on Monday night to capture a US Navy drone of the same type. The US Navy said the move was “blatant” and “groundless.”
In that case, the Navy said it detected a naval support vessel of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps towing a Saildrone Explorer. American sailors told the Iranians that the drone was the property of the US government and demanded its return.
As a US 5th Fleet MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter hovered overhead, the Iranians disconnected the tow rope they attached to the drone and eventually left the area, according to a report. issued by the United States Navy at the time. The statement said the Navy had resumed operations “without incident”.
The United States and Iran often meet in the Persian Gulf – which the US calls the Arabian Gulf – and in the Red and Arabian Seas. However, the incidents occurred this week amid international efforts to revive a 2015 agreement with Iran that limited its nuclear program. President Donald J. Trump abandoned treaty in 2018.
Since President Biden took office, American negotiators have been trying to recover agreement, an effort made more urgent by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent oil and natural gas prices soaring. Under the deal, the United States will lift tough economic sanctions on Iran that have limited its ability to export energy.
The United States and regional partners are also working to establish a network of drones in a program to contain Iran.
The US Navy has been operating Saildrone Explorers – which work with cameras that can take 360-degree images – since last fall. The drones are marketed and carry no classified information, US defense officials said.
An official said Thursday’s incident stood out because the seizure was conducted by the Iranian navy, which the Pentagon considers more professional than the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy. US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly.
Around 2 p.m. Thursday, the crew of the Jamarran towed the American drones onto the ship, the official said. Drones often operate near US naval assets, and two US Navy destroyers are monitoring the ships. As it did on Monday, the Navy dispatched helicopters, recording the action video of the Iranian crew.