Iran shot down one of our drones. Now what?

So this was the depressing news that broke overnight. It appears that Iran has shot down one of our drones over the Strait of Hormuz. When the Associated Press originally reported on the story there was still confusion surrounding the event and our military wasn’t commenting on it. But later, ABC News received confirmation that the drone had indeed gone down. Where it was at the time remains in dispute.

In a major provocation, Iran shot down an unarmed and unmanned U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton drone while it was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz Thursday, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The incident is sure to trigger serious discussions within the Trump administration about how to respond to a direct attack on a U.S. military asset that goes beyond recent attacks in the Middle East that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.

The U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile while the reconnaissance drone was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The Navy is saying the drone was over international waters while Iran claims that it had crossed over into their air space. (And of course, that’s what they would say.) In the initial flurry of reporting there was some speculation that the drone was an Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk, but later reports corrected that, saying we’d lost a Navy MQ-4C Triton. These are reconnaissance drones with no weapons on board. Iran most likely took it down with a SA-7 surface-to-air missile.

So now what? Clearly, there will need to be some sort of response, but let’s not immediately start beating the drums of war here. Losing an unmanned piece of hardware is different than suffering an attack that kills or injures some of our military personnel, or sinks one of our ships with people onboard. The recent attacks on the tankers were certainly provocative as well, but the same caveats apply.

It seems to me that President Trump has options that involve doing far more than nothing (or a strongly worded letter), but still short of invading their country. They took out a piece of our technology, so it would probably be appropriate to take a few pieces of theirs. We should be able to manage that feat without needing to kill any of Iran’s soldiers or sailors.

That doesn’t answer the long term questions, however. Iran still hasn’t put forward an acceptable nuclear deal and they’ve recently edged closer to refining uranium beyond the currently established limits and possibly even having weapons-grade material. Their government is issuing statements claiming that they don’t want a war, but are totally ready for war if it comes. Is that bravado or their actual foreign policy? I’m assuming it’s at least partially the former. Iran is a regional power to be sure, but they would lose an actual shooting war with us and they know it. (That doesn’t mean it would be cheap, easy or bloodless for us, by the way.)

There’s also the risk of either Russia or Turkey jumping in on the side of the Iranians. That would get messy very quickly. So here’s a thought. Saudi Arabia is spoiling for a fight with Iran and they have a (sometimes regrettably) close relationship with President Trump. I wonder if someone is putting a bug in their ear about now. Just some food for thought.