Iran SEIZES two US Navy maritime drones, then RETURNS them, the second conflict in 12 days. After meeting in the Red Sea, tensions rise.
On Thursday, Iran captured two US Navy maritime drones in the Red Sea near Yemen.
Later, when US warships closed in on an Iranian vessel, they were freed.
Iranian state television showed sailors inspecting two Saildrone Explorers.
They were presumably thrown overboard as the American battleships approached.
It follows a similar event in the Persian Gulf.
And last week, US soldiers and Iranian-backed troops in Syria exchanged fire.
By Associated Press and Dailymail.com Senior Political Reporter Rob Crilly
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Iran said on Friday it had returned two US marine drones it captured in the Red Sea after the latest maritime confrontation involving the US Navy’s new fleet of shipborne drones.
The confrontation is the latest reminder of tensions between the United States and Iran, after exchanges of fire between American soldiers and Iranian-backed forces in Syria and as the two countries are close to a new nuclear deal.
Iranian state media released images from the deck of its destroyer Jamaran, as it is claimed.
It depicted sailors wearing life jackets inspecting what appeared to be two Saildrone Explorers.
One could be seen thrown overboard, with another cruiser seen in the distance.
On Thursday, state television said the Iranian military discovered three abandoned unmanned surveillance boats in international waters.
Jamaran detained the two boats after issuing two warnings to a US warship to avoid any accidents, according to state television.
After securing the international waterway for transport, No. 84 Naval Squadron released the boats to a safe location.
In this image issued by the US Navy on February 9, 2022, a Saildrone Explorer unmanned marine drone cruises in the Gulf of Aqaba. Iran said on Friday its navy had captured two US maritime drones.
In this image from official Iranian television, Iranian navy personnel throw a US marine drone overboard into the Red Sea, with another ship seen in the background.
He said: “The United States Navy has been advised not to repeat such occurrences in the future.”
Before the military issued an official announcement, a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation, identified the captured drones as Saildrone Explorers.
These drones are commercially accessible and are used to monitor open waterways by a range of customers, including scientists.
According to the official, two US warships and Navy helicopters responded to the situation in the Red Sea. They radioed the Iranian warship and tracked it until it released the drones on Friday morning, an official said.
Iranian sailors first tried to conceal the drones with tarps and denied possession, the official said, adding that the drones were now in US custody.
It is the second such occurrence in recent days as talks on a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers loom.
The previous incident occurred in the Persian Gulf and involved Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, not its regular navy. The Guard towed a Saildrone Explorer before releasing it as an American cruiser followed in its wake. Iran had condemned the US Navy for releasing a “Hollywood” style film about the event, but did the same during the Red Sea incident on Friday.
Last year, the 5th Fleet deployed its unmanned Task Force 59.
Navy drones include ultra-endurance airborne surveillance drones, surface vessels such as the Sea Hawk and Sea Hunter, and smaller torpedo-like underwater drones.
The 5th Fleet is responsible for the vital Strait of Hormuz, the small opening in the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s oil passes. It also extends to the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, the Egyptian canal that connects the Mediterranean and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb off Yemen.
On Tuesday, the US Navy released a photograph of Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel Shahid Bazair towing a US Navy Saildrone Explorer in the Persian Gulf.
In recent years, a number of sea assaults have taken place in the region.
During Yemen’s protracted civil conflict, bomb-laden drones and mines sent adrift by Houthi militants destroyed ships in the Red Sea.
Near the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian army has captured oil tankers. Others have been assaulted in events the Navy attributes to Iran.
The strikes came about a year after then-President Donald Trump decided in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, in which sanctions were eased in exchange for a significant restriction of uranium enrichment by Tehran.
Negotiations to revive the deal are still in limbo. On Friday, the United States expressed skepticism over Iran’s latest written response to the talks.
Iran is enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, with officials openly speculating that Tehran could build a nuclear weapon if it wanted to.
Iran claimed its nuclear program was peaceful, despite claims by Western governments and international inspectors that Tehran maintained a nuclear weapons program until 2003.