By Yeganeh Torbati
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran possesses drones that are far more advanced than the unmanned aircraft Iranian-backed Hezbollah launched into Israeli airspace this month, Iran's defense minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Iran's military regularly announces defense and engineering developments though some analysts are skeptical of the reliability of such reports.
Earlier this month, Israel shot down a drone after it flew 25 miles into the Jewish state. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the aircraft, saying its parts had been manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the downed drone did not use his country's latest know-how, according to a report from Iran's Mehr news agency on Sunday.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran currently possesses unmanned aircrafts with technology that is far more advanced than the drone recently sent by Hezbollah forces to fly in the skies of the Zionist regime (Israel)," he was quoted as saying.
"Undoubtedly the technology in the (Hezbollah) drone ... was not Iran's latest technology."
Vahidi had earlier said that the drone's launch into Israel was a sign of the Islamic Republic's military capabilities.
In April, Iran announced it had started to build a copy of a U.S. surveillance drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, which was captured last year after it came down near the Afghan border.
Tensions in the region have simmered over Iran's disputed nuclear program and Israeli threats to bomb its nuclear sites if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop Iranian nuclear activity the West suspects is meant to develop a weapons capability.
Tehran says it is seeking only civilian nuclear energy.
In a speech on Saturday evening, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to present the country as a defender of peace and security in the Gulf region, echoing comments made in the past by Iranian military leaders.
"The Iranian nation has never been an aggressor nation, but history has shown that it is a very good defender," Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony to honor Iran's naval forces, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has always been a protector of the security of the Persian Gulf."
He said: "The security of the Persian Gulf has only been undermined when outsiders have been present there. Other than at such points, the Persian Gulf has been completely secure and this security has been created by Iran."
Iranian officials have said previously that the country could block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for the world's sea-borne oil trade, or strike U.S. military bases in the region if it is attacked.
(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Andrew Osborn)