TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran said Friday it shot down an intruding foreign drone near one of its Persian Gulf ports close to the Iraqi border as the U.S. launched a mission to purportedly carry out naval patrols in the region.
The Iranian army said on the Telegram messaging app that experts had collected debris from the unmanned aircraft at Bandar-e Mahshahr and would provide more information in the hours to come.
"The downed droned definitely belonged to a foreign country. Its wreckage has been recovered and is being investigated,” the governor of Khuzestan, Gholamreza Shariati, said.
The drone was destroyed before it could reach sensitive locations, the commander of the army’s air defense force, Brig. Gen. Alireza Sabahifard, was quoted as telling the Fars news agency.
The governor of Khuzestan province confirmed that a drone was shot down in the region, according to IRNA.
In June, Iran downed a U.S. Navy drone over the Persian Gulf, the most recent example of Tehran targeting foreign drones.
Officials said the army targeted the downed drone Friday using the domestically produced Mersad system, which became operational in 2018 and fires Shahin surface-to-air missiles. The incident would mark the first known use of the system in military action.
The incident came as a U.S.-led naval coalition officially launched operations in Bahrain Thursday to purportedly protect shipping in the waters of the Persian Gulf, a potentially provocative move likely to escalate tensions.
The coalition, aimed at warding off the perceived threat to the world's oil supply, has been in the making since June. Iran has put forward its own proposals for boosting Persian Gulf security that pointedly exclude outside powers.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, joined the so-called International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) in August. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates followed suit in September. The three Arab countries have allied with the occupying regime of Israel to confront Iran.
Australia and Britain are the main Western countries to have agreed to send warships to escort Persian Gulf shipping. The newest member, Albania, joined on Friday.
Foreign media reports said vessels will be escorted through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Persian Gulf and the main artery for the transport of Middle East oil.
Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, said while Operation Sentinel's "operational design is threat-based, it does not threaten".
Most European governments have declined to participate in the naval coalition, fearful of undermining their efforts to save a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which was badly weakened by Washington’s withdrawal last year.
Animosity between Tehran and Washington has soared since President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal and reimposed U.S. sanctions.
The provocative move comes nearly five months after Washington announced that it was seeking to form a "multinational maritime effort" in response to a series of mysterious explosions targeting vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman earlier this year.
The U.S .and Saudi Arabia were quick to blame Iran for the incidents without providing conclusive evidence. Washington announced a deployment of 1,000 additional troops in the region following the attacks.
Iran has roundly rejected the accusations, emphasizing its commitment to regional maritime security and its importance in safeguarding international trade.
Tehran has said the attacks were part of a scenario orchestrated by Washington and its regional allies in a bid to rally international pressure against Iran.
Albania’s decision to join the campaign raised eyebrows. The country is not known to have any apparent interests in the Persian Gulf and ranks among the countries with the lowest GDP in Europe.
Albania is also known to have a navy force limited to a small number of patrol vessels, but it hosts a sprawling camp for some 3,000 MKO terrorists.
Following two mysterious explosions targeting oil tankers in the Sea of Oman in June, an audio tape leaked from the MKO suggested that the group may have cooperated with Saudi Arabia in the incidents which were blamed on Iran.
Albania's participation raises further questions about the purpose of the mission, including whether the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have asked the impoverished country to participate in the coalition at their cost so that MKO terrorists can be used for possible acts against Iran.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had sent a letter to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) warning that commercial routes in the Red Sea, west of Saudi Arabia, are unsafe following three attacks on its tankers in recent months.
Iran's SABITI tanker was hit by two missiles near the Saudi port city of Jeddah, marking the most recent attack last month.
"We believe that this is an attack organized by one or more states, since two other Iranian flagged tankers were similarly attacked in the same approximate area” and with " similar damages to the ships,” the letter, dated October 30, read.
The letter went on to explain that Iran's Happiness-1 and Helm tankers had also been sabotaged in April and August, respectively.
"A major concern in this respect is that the organized and directed pattern of these attacks within a short time and similar locations have rendered the Red Sea as an unsafe route for ships to adopt for their voyages,” it added.
Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that "a regime with the help of some regional countries" had orchestrated the assault on SABITI without providing any further information.