When Iran shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz this week, tensions between the two countries escalated immediately. President Trump has since acknowledged he ordered a retaliatory strike and pulled back only shortly before the mission was set to take place over concerns it could kill up to 150 people.
In the days since, U.S. and Iranian officials have bickered over where exactly the aircraft was when it was shot down. Iran claims it had crossed into its airspace, Washington claims it had not.
This isn’t the first time Iran and the United States have feuded over an American drone.
Nearly eight years ago, a stealth American surveillance drone with a 66-foot wingspan went down over Iran.
Again, accounts of how exactly it happened differed on each side. The United States insisted the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel, which had taken off for a CIA mission from a base in Afghanistan, experienced a malfunction; Iran said they neutralized it in a cyberattack.
As The Washington Post has reported, U.S. officials said at the time that the CIA was using the surveillance aircraft to learn about Iran’s nuclear facilities. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that when Washington asked Iran to return the drone, Iranian officials scoffed, instead displaying the captured aircraft on national television.
“No one returns the symbol of aggression to the party that sought secret and vital intelligence related to the national security of a country,” Gen. Hossein Salami, then-deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military, said at the time. (He is now the guard’s commander in chief.)
The 2011 incident never escalated tensions to the same level as this week’s drone downing has, but the saga did go on for years.
In 2012, Iranian officials said they had infiltrated the drone’s system and were working on creating a version for their own uses.
The next year, Iranian news agencies published footage Iranian officials claimed they had obtained from the RQ-170, CNN reported.
And in 2014, state media broadcast footage of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visiting an exhibition where the Iranian copy of the U.S. drone appeared to be on display. “This drone is very important for reconnaissance missions,” he reportedly said.
Last year, Israel shot down a drone it said appeared to be Iranian with a design based on the American RQ-170.
"It was an Iranian copy of a U.S. drone that they got hold of a few years ago and they duplicated,” Yuval Steinitz, a minister in Israel’s security cabinet, told Israeli radio at the time. But it wasn’t an exact copy of that model. For one thing, its wingspan was 19 feet longer than the U.S. aircraft.
Israeli officials said at the time that the drone took off from an Iranian base in Syria and was shot down after flying a few miles into Israeli territory. Iran called that claim “ridiculous.”