WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that Iran made a “very big mistake” by shooting down a U.S. spy drone in the already tense oil-rich region.
Hours earlier, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down the unmanned military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory.
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate surged more than 5%, to $56.59 a barrel, while Brent crude jumped 4% on the news. Gold hit a high of $1,397.70, its highest level since Sept. 5, 2013, when it last traded at $1,400.
The downing was first announced by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards on its website, Sepah News. The Iranian outlet claimed the Revolutionary Guards had shot down a U.S. “spy drone” over the southern province of Hormozgan.
“The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America. … Our borders are Iran’s red line and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Major Gen. Hossein Salami, the recently appointed chief of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Iranian state TV. “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”
The latest confrontation comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. The U.S. has accused Iran of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region.
The Trump administration blamed Iran for the attacks on the tankers operating near Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route through which much of the world’s oil passes.
“Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week without citing specific evidence as to why Tehran was responsible. “No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets and engage in nuclear blackmail.”
On Monday, the Pentagon released declassified images showing the sustained damage from one of the oil tankers and maintained that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy was responsible.
“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the Pentagon said Monday.
While both countries’ leaders maintain that they do not want war, the rise in tensions in a region bristling with military hardware has prompted fears of an accident or miscalculation triggering a wider conflict.
The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request from CNBC for additional context on the president’s tweet.