—but the Pasdaran soon denied that any such thing had happened.
For the Islamic Republic to acknowledge shooting down a drone over Qom province, 400 kilometers (250 miles) deep inside the country, would be to admit it was unable to defend Iran’s borders. That would be a huge failure and major embarrassment for the regime, which insists its border air defenses are impenetrable—even though it has large air defense deployments surrounding the Natanz centrifuge plant in Esfahan province.
Ali Aghazadeh-Dafsari, the Majlis deputy for Rasht and a member of the Majlis National Security Committee, told a reporter last Tuesday, “The unmanned drone that was sent by the US Central Intelligence Agency to reconnoiter the region and Qom’s nuclear center was spotted and downed.”
He said such spy drones had been sent against Iran by the CIA for a long time but had regularly been spotted and foiled.
His comments, however, were contrary to official claims that the Americans cannot penetrate Iran’s air defenses at the border. Still, it took the Pasdaran three days to come up with a denial. The Pasdaran said the report was mistaken. They said a Pasdar anti-aircraft unit in Qom province had simply shot down a target drone sent up by Iran in a test.
The statement made a point of emphasizing that because of the vigilance of the nation’s air defense units, the enemy’s surveillance flights are not able to infiltrate into Iranian airspace. It did not explain why it then had an air defense unit stationed in Qom province.
The statement went on to complain that the media should only publish news about the military that is issued by the military. It did not complain about the deputy who gave the media the story, only about newspapers for publishing it.
Last January, the Pasdaran claimed to have shot down numerous American drones trying to penetrate Iranian airspace. It said it shot them down in international airspace over the Persian Gulf, which would be entirely illegal since any country’s aircraft are free to fly in international airspace. No one bothered to point out at the time that the Islamic Republic was boasting of an illegal act. But the boast was made to support the claim that Iran could stop any aircraft from entering Iranian airspace.
The Pasdaran said in January that they would soon put the downed drones on public display so that Iranians could see what good deeds the Pasdaran had done. Six months have now passed and the downed drones have never been put on public display.
The US military is known to fly many spy drones in Iraq and Afghanistan searching out tactical targets. The drones are often used along the borders with Iran looking for infiltrators.
Drones are most useful against moving tactical targets, as a military unit seeks to pinpoint what is over the next hill or tries to locate enemy troops moving about the countryside. They are less useful against a fixed site like the Fordo plant buried inside a mountain. That site can be photographed multiple times a day by an overhead satellite, so a periodic visit by a drone is likely to add little that is not already known.
After the Majlis deputy reported the drone downing, the Voice of America reported that US military and intelligence sources told it no American drones were missing.
Exactly what actually happened remained obscure. The Fars news agency reported that before the Majlis deputy spoke out reports had been circulating in Qom that an air defense unit had been sighted shooting at something in the sky.
That might appear to support the Pasdar announcement of shooting down a target drone. However, such tests ought not be carried out in a populated area since the target shot down and the anti-aircraft artillery shells fired into the air must fall to earth and could kill someone. Such tests should only be conducted in remote and unpopulated areas. If the Pasdar statement is accurate, it amounted to a confession of unprofessional conduct.