The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Sunday claimed their soldiers shot down what they say is an Israeli surveillance drone flying in Iranian airspace, not far from the Natanz nuclear facility located in the central part of the country.
"A pilotless Israeli spy plane was shot down after it was traced and intercepted by the IRGC Aerospace Force," said a statement released by the IRGC.
The state-run FARS News Agency reports:
According to the [IRGC] statement, the Israeli pilotless aircraft was a radar-evading, stealth drone with the mission to spy on Iran's enrichment activities by flying over Natanz nuclear enrichment plant.
The IRGC also pointed out in its statement that the Israeli hostile aircraft has been targeted by a surface-to-air missile.
"This mischievous attempt once again made the adventurous nature of the Zionist regime more evident and added another black page to the dark record of this fake and warmongering regime, which is full of crimes and wickedness," the statement added.
The IRGC further warned that it "preserves the right of response and retaliation for itself".
According to the Guardian:
A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards later told Iranian television that parts of the aircraft had been retrieved. Iran claimed to have reverse engineered a drone after capturing an American RQ-170 Sentinel in 2011.
"Major parts of the devices of the drone are intact and have been received by our friends that can be used for further information," said General Ramazan Sharif. He did not say when the aircraft was shot down, but said it was "identified upon arrival in Iranian airspace". He said authorities allowed it to fly for a short time to determine its destination.
Israeli political and military officials said they never respond to such claims. They have repeatedly threatened to take military action against Iran's nuclear installations, but have been reluctant to do so without US backing or participation.
Natanz is Iran's main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges. About 3,000 more are at the Fordo plant, buried inside a mountain and hard to destroy.
Israel says Iran is developing nuclear weapons at the sites which it intends to use in attacks on the Jewish state. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly said the Iranian nuclear programme is an existential threat to his country. Iran insists it is enriching uranium is for civilian purposes.
And Haaretz adds:
Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, demands Iran be stripped of all nuclear technologies, something Tehran rules out and which most foreign diplomats deem unrealistic.
Iran has accused Israel and its allies in the West of assassinating its nuclear scientists and attacking its nuclear sites with computer viruses.
Israel has always declined comment on such accusations and on Sunday its military said it did not comment on foreign reports.
The Revolutionary Guards said of the drone incursion: "This wily act further exposed the Zionist regime's adventurous temperament and added yet another black page to a record filled with crime and mischief."
If confirmed, an aircraft built by Israel's state-owned Aerospace Industries known as the Heron, or the more powerful Heron TP, is likely to have been involved for such a long-range mission. Military commanders in Israel have described both as a possible means of monitoring Iran and other countries.