TEHRAN: Iran shot down an unidentified drone that “infiltrated” near Bandar-e Mahshahr port on the Gulf coast on Friday, Iranian media reported, after the downing of a US drone nearly triggered air strikes earlier this year.

IRIB, a state broadcaster, aired a short video purporting to show the interception of the drone by an Iranian anti-missile battery.

The six second sequence showed the luminous nighttime trail of what appeared to be a missile before an explosion at very low altitude.

But the video was not broadcast by state TV’s Farsi channel IRINN, which largely ignored the story.

Relevant units acted “in response to a violation of our airspace by a drone (that) infiltrated”, IRIBNEWS reported, citing Brigadier General Alireza Sabahi Fard, commander in chief of aerial defence.

“The drone was shot down before it could reach sensitive sites thanks to the great vigilance of our unified aerial defence system,” he said.

Earlier, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that aerial defence had “destroyed an unidentified drone” which flew through the skies of Bandar-e Mahshahr in Khuzestan province.

Located near Iraq, Bandar-e Mahshahr and the neighbouring port of Bandar-e Emam-Khomeiny is a key zone for petrochemical activity.

The army downed the unmanned aircraft over Khuzestan province before dawn using a Mersad surface-to-air missile, reported the Tasnim news agency, which is close to Iran’s ultra-conservatives and generally well informed on defence matters.

Citing provincial governor Gholamreza Shariati, Tasnim reported that the armed forces had located the wreckage of the drone in a marshy area and opened an inquiry into the incident.

Tasnim cited “unofficial” sources saying the missile that destroyed the drone had been fired “as part of a nighttime combat exercise aiming to test aerial defence systems”. The agency later deleted those details from its site.According to state news agency IRNA, Shariati said the “unknown drone...

(belonged) without doubt to a foreign country,” with out specifying a country.

The accidental crash of an Iranian drone in the same province on October 23 prompted newspaper reports that an unidentified foreign aircraft had been shot down.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019