Though many of the press accounts stress that the Iranian fighter jets “missed” the US Predator drone in the shots they fired, it’s not likely the Iranians were intentionally trying to shoot down the drone, analysts say.
The Su-25 jets are, after all, combat aircraft, while Predators are slower and less maneuverable. “My interpretation is if they had wanted to shoot it down, they could have,” Harmer says. “There is simply no comparison between the two aircraft, and as a result it’s pretty obvious that they didn’t intend to shoot it down.”
Shooting down a Predator – even without a pilot in it – would have increased tensions “substantially.” Instead, Iran was more intent on sending a message, Harmer says.
It is behavior he saw often in his role with the US Navy Fifth Fleet. He recalls that the Iranians would send their own reconnaissance aircraft “right over” US aircraft carriers.
They would also drop cardboard boxes painted black – and other items meant to resemble mines – in the vicinity of US ships.
“We called it the ‘basic harassment package,’ ” Harmer says. “Every time they get a chance, they’re going to harass the US.”
Yet it’s behavior that US military commanders tended not to take too seriously. “It wasn’t really that big a deal because we know they don’t want to start a war accidentally,” he says.
That said, as the Pentagon noted, the Nov. 1 incident was the first time Iran had ever fired at a US drone. Adds Harmer, “We’ve never seen a message quite like this.”