TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- A fleet of drones has allowed Iran to watch every U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf region and develop an archive of their daily movements, Iran’s top naval commander said in an interview published Tuesday.
The comments come days after Iran denied President Donald Trump’s claim that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone and subsequently released a video of a U.S. ship that proved its version of events.
Rear Adm. Hussein Khanzadi, the head of Iran’s navy, expanded upon the point, saying that every U.S. ship in the region is watched by drones.
"Our drones have significant ranges and have no limitations in communication links. We have a complete archive of images of American vessels approaching from very far distances,” Khanzadi said in an interview with the Young Journalists Club.
Khanzadi added that there is "an immense archive of the day-to-day and even moment-to-moment movements of American forces, whether in the Persian Gulf” or the Gulf of Oman.
Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and North Africa editor at Jane’s Defense Weekly, said there was little doubt that Iran could track ships going through the Strait of Hormuz, the Washington Post reported.
Khanzadi’s comments highlight the central role that unmanned aerial vehicles are playing in the dispute over the Persian Gulf. Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that had entered its airspace.
Trump claimed Thursday that a U.S. Navy ship destroyed an Iranian drone that came too close to it. The drone came within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz before the crew "took defensive action” and "immediately destroyed” it, according to the president.
The next day, Iran rejected the claim and said that all of its drones had returned to their bases.
A senior IRGC commander said Sunday Trump’s lie was so big that even the Iranian military first believed it.
"After Trump’s claim that the U.S. had shot down an Iranian drone, we checked our various drone units for several ties,” IRGC Aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh said.
"That was why we had a few hours of delay in dismissing the news, and finally we found out that our unmanned aerial vehicle had monitored the U.S. fleet’s activity from the time it entered into the Strait of Hormuz to the time it left the strait,” he said.
"It was not believable for us that he would personally tell such a big lie on TV.”
Though Iran uses its drones primarily for surveillance, U.S. officials and experts have expressed concern that they could be fitted with weapons and used in combat by Tehran and its allies.
Iran’s Tasnim News Agency suggested Tuesday that American military leaders were worried about risks posed by the drone technology.
"Pentagon generals are deeply concerned that if Iranian drones can pass their radars without being tracked by their terminating mechanisms, they might as well carry out military attacks on their vessels if needed,” the article said.
A top adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday praised Iran’s downing of the U.S. drone and the seizing of a British-flagged tanker as turning points in "Muslims’ struggle”.
"Islamic countries... are today stronger than before as shown by the seizure of the British oil tanker or the downing of the U.S. drone which violated Iran’s territory — which are milestones in the history of Muslims’ struggle,” said Ali Akbar Velayati.