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Iran confirms clash with US drone, claims it was in Iranian airspace (+video)

The US says the drone was flying in international airspace; last year, a CIA stealth drone was brought down deep inside Iran. The aerial confrontation comes as more nuclear talks loom.

By Staff writer / November 9, 2012

This undated image shows a MQ-1 Predator drone.

Courtesy of Lt Col Leslie Pratt/U.S. Air Force//Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian commanders said they are ready for "any threat" to Iran's borders, just days after Iranian military jets shot at an unmanned American drone conducting clandestine surveillance off Iran's southwest coast.

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Iran says it will deal decisively with any foreign encroachment of its airspace.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone engaged in a routine but "classified surveillance mission" was shot at by two Iranian Su-25 jet fighters over international waters, 16 miles off the Iranian shore.

 Iran’s Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi confirmed the incident today, but stated explicitly that the “unidentified aircraft” was in fact flying over Iranian waters – less than 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

“Due to the timely, smart and decisive action of the Iranian Armed Forces, [it] was forced to flee,” General Vahidi said, according to a Defense Ministry statement. “This experience and previous incidents show that the Islamic Republic of Iran vigilantly and precisely monitors all movements [of its enemies] and takes decisive, necessary and timely actions.”

Vahidi’s comments followed those of another general, who said today Iran would take on any intruder.

“If any aircraft seeks to enter our country’s airspace, our armed forces will confront it,” said deputy chairman of the Iran Chiefs of Staff Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri. Iran would “firmly” respond to any ground, sea, or air "invasion.”

The near-clash comes at a moment of heightened tension and expectations between Iran, the US, Israel, and Western powers. Secret US-Iran meetings have reportedly preceded a resumption of talks later this month about Iran’s controversial nuclear program; the US is imposing more sanctions, and Iran has been the target of a lethal covert war.

The latest incident recalled the loss of a CIA Stealth drone deep inside Iranian territory last December. US officials said it crashed, but Iran announced it had caught the drone in an "electronic ambush." An Iranian engineer told the Monitor how Iran brought it down largely intact by incrementally "spoofing" the bird's GPS system.

(Read Scott Peterson's exclusive report on bringing down the Sentinel drone)

Until that point, the very existence of the CIA's bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel drone – never mind its operations over Iran – was classified.

Iran poised for war games

On the eve of what Iranian media billed as a "massive nationwide [military] manuever," top Iranian officers said their forces were ready, as rhetoric about a US or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities has surged in recent months.

"The air defense of the Islamic Republic of Iran fully resists against any threat and uses its utmost capacity to counter threats," Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmaili, the chief of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base Command, was reported today as saying by Iran's official IRNA news agency.

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