USS Boxer, pictured here, shot down an Iranian drone on July 18 2019. Picture: CRAIG RODARTE/AFP
USS Boxer, pictured here, shot down an Iranian drone on July 18 2019. Picture: CRAIG RODARTE/AFP

Washington  — President Donald Trump said on Thursday that a US navy ship had “destroyed” an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after the aircraft threatened the ship, in the latest incident to stir tensions in the Gulf.

Trump told an event in the White House that the drone had flown to within 1,000m of the USS Boxer and had ignored “multiple calls to stand down”.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters. The US reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests,” Trump said.

“The drone was immediately destroyed,” he said.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had taken “defensive action” against a drone, but did not mention if the aircraft was Iranian. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the incident took place on Thursday morning as the Boxer was moving into the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions in the Gulf region are high, with fears that the US and Iran could stumble into war.

The US has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil artery. Tehran rejects the allegations.

Iran in June shot down a US military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile. Iran says the drone was in its airspace, but Washington says it was in international skies.

Trump said at the time the US had come close to launching a military strike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of the US drone.

Relations between the two countries have worsened since 2018 when Trump abandoned a 2015 deal between world powers and Iran in which Tehran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Earlier on Thursday, the US demanded Iran immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf, and a US military commander in the region said the US would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.

Iran played down the seizure of the ship, which it said was a small vessel that was smuggling oil.

“We do this (inspecting ships) every day. These are people who smuggle our oil,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying: “It was a small ship used to smuggle 1-million litres – not 1-million barrels – of crude oil.”