CNN is revealing that Iranian jets last week fired repeatedly on a U.S. Air Force Predator drone conducting routine maritime surveillance in international airspace over the Persian Gulf. The two jets, Iranian Su-25 fighters piloted by members of Iran's elite revolutionary Guard Corps force, "were never successful in hitting" the drone. Footage of the attack was captured by the Predator's on-board cameras.
The incident, which elicited a formal protest from the United States, casts a spotlight on Iran's systematic campaign to militarize strategic areas of the Persian Gulf.
Tehran has repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which is by far the world's most important choke point for oil transit. It has placed short-range missiles on its ships, part of what Iranian officials boast is a posture enabling them to "target from [Iranian] shores all areas in the Persian Gulf region, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman." It has strategically set up naval bases in the area, with the aim of reinforcing its hold over disputed islands that control access to the Strait.
Analysis from The Israel Project has outlined the increasing alarm with which Arab states in the Gulf have reacted to Iran's military expansionism. Fearing that Tehran will acquire immunity if it ever successfully develops nuclear weapons, the UAE's ambassador to the United States has publicly made the case that the benefits of bombing Iran's nuclear installations outweigh the costs. According to leaked diplomatic cables, Saudi leaders have gone further and privately urged U.S. officials to strike.
The attack on the U.S. Predator drone comes at a time when some foreign policy analysts have suggested that Iran may be receptive to renewed diplomatic overtures during U.S. President Barack Obama's second term. Iranian officials rejected the suggestion on the eve of the U.S. election and on Wednesday Sadeq Larijani, the head of the Iranian judiciary, echoed their opposition.
Persistent hostility from Iranian leaders has reinforced pessimism regarding the odds that U.S. engagement of Tehran can be successful. Last week's attack on the Predator drone will strengthen the case of skeptics who suggest that pro-engagement analysts are underestimating Iranian intransigence.