After days of signals from Tehran about discussions with the US, the Islamic Republic's military --- seizing on the Pentagon's announcement of an encounter between Iranian fighters jets and a US drone on 1 November --- has taken the lead in a public show of defiance.
On Sunday, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said, “An enemy’s unmanned aircraft was flying in the Persian Gulf. The drone was inside Iranian airspace. It mistakenly or intentionally entered the Iranian airspace. Iran’s air defense systems and IRGC fighter jets did their job and forced the aircraft out of Iran’s skies. Evidently, if such intrusions take place in the future, we will protect our airspace."
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division, said the fighter jets had fired warning shots to drive away the US drone. which he claimed was gathering information on oil installations near Kharq Island in southern Iran. He asserted that next time the Iranian aircraft would take "firmer action".
Yahya Rahim Safavi, the military advisor to the Supreme Leader, added another dimension to the tough talk yesterday. Speaking on the anniversary of the death of a senior commander in an explosion on a Revolutionary Guards base, Rahim Safavi said an American proposal to establish a "hotline" between Tehran and Washington has been rejected.
Now the important question: is this chest-thumping merely a complement to the talk and manoeuvres for discussions with the US and the 5+1 Powers on Iran's nuclear programme? Is it the indication that Tehran is stepping away from negotiations? Or does it point to a continuing battle within the regime, with the Revolutionary Guards' commanders trying to win over Supreme Leader and quash the efforts of others --- not only the diplomats, but also politicians like the Larijani brothers --- for the discussions with Washington?