Iran’s drone threat exposed

Iranian drones are becoming the main new threat of 2021. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed that Iran has tried to transfer weapons using drones from Syria. He also revealed the Iranian bases where the UAVs are located at Chabahar and Qeshm in Iran.

This comes in the wake of revelations in September about drone operator training in Iran. At the time he said that “Iran is training militias from Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria to employ advanced UAVs, at a base called Kashan.”

The threat from Iranian drones has existed for many years. In 2019, the Islamic Republic used drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia’s massive Abqaiq power facility. Iran transferred drone technology to Houthi rebels in Yemen, to Hamas, to Shiite militias in Iraq, and also to Hezbollah.

Iranian drones have entered Israeli airspace at least twice: in February 2018 when one flew from the T-4 base in Syria to an area near Beit She’an and in May 2021 when a drone was launched from Iraq and flew over Syria also to an area. near Beit She’an. Israel shot down these drones.

Iran used drones to attack a ship in the Gulf of Oman in July, killing two crew members. He has used them in Syria against ISIS and in Iraq to threaten American forces. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have attacked US forces at facilities in Erbil several times this year.

Iran also used drones to attack US forces at the Tanf garrison in Syria. Recent reports in the US media claimed that the attack was an Iranian attempt to respond to Israeli airstrikes by targeting the US For Iran, the US and Israel are great adversaries.

Benny Gantz speaks about Iran at the World Counter-Terrorism Summit (credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)

ALL OF THIS points in the same direction: Iran wants to use drones to attack Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries. It also increasingly relies on drones as its primary weapon. This is a shift away from focusing on ballistic missiles and precision-guided munitions. It is a change in technology and it can also be a change in precision and lethality.

Drones are different from missiles. They don’t fly in an arc and that means they can be difficult to spot and kill. Drones are also different from cruise missiles in that they can hover, monitor, and return to base, or hover over a target.

In Gantz’s speech on Tuesday, he highlighted the Shahed-type UAVs, which he said were being used to carry out “maritime strikes,” apparently from the island of Qeshm in southern Iran. “Iran is also operating outside the region, transferring oil and weapons to Venezuela, operating its Quds Forces in South America and trying to infiltrate its influence in Afghanistan.

“Iranian terrorism is exported under the directive of [supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and the main leaders of the regime, ”he said. “One of its key tools is UAVs, a precise weapon that can hit strategic targets over thousands of kilometers. As such, this capability is already endangering Sunni countries, international forces in the Middle East, and countries in Europe and Africa. ”

He also mentioned the T-4 base in Syria, a base in the desert near Palmyra. This is the same base from which Iran sent a drone in February 2018 to target Israel.

It is also the base to which it allegedly attempted to transfer Khordad’s 3rd air defense in April 2018. Tehran used the same system to shoot down a US Global Hawk drone off the coast of Iran in June 2019. The defense system air could be a threat to the United States and Israel. In October 2021, more reports emerged that the Islamic Republic wanted to move air defenses to Syria.

Gantz has said that Tehran used a Shahed 141 drone in the February 2018 incident. “Iran not only uses UAVs to attack, but also to deliver weapons to its proxies.”

The fact that Iranian drones can carry weapons appears to be a new revelation. While Iran was known to have transferred technology regarding drones, trained operators, and moved parts like motors or gyros by sea and land to proxies, transferring a weapon using a drone is a new threat.

The threat of drones in Iran is complex. Iran has several classes of drones that it has developed over the years. The Shahed series includes the 149, nicknamed “Gaza,” and the 129, which are inspired by America’s Predator and Reaper drones. Newsweek has also mentioned in a Shahed 136 that Iran may have moved to Yemen in January. There’s also the Shahed 171 Simorgh, which is a copy of the US Sentinel flying-wing spy drone.

There are also Iranian Mohajer drones whose origins date back to the 1980s. Some of these have a twin tail and are used for surveillance. There is also the Ababil family of drones, which includes the kamikaze drones that have become popular in Yemen and now among Hamas.

Iranian drones have been exported or copied by Iranian representatives and have changed their name. Hamas uses the Shehab drone, launched from a kind of catapult. The Houthis used the kamikaze drones Qasef and Samad to carry out precision strikes. Iraqi militias use the Sahab.

What matters in Iran’s drone operations is that it relies on this weapon as a kind of instant air force. Iran cannot afford new fighter jets and is subject to sanctions. The drones give Iran a plausible denial to carry out strikes because it is not always easy to prove that it carried out the operations, even if it finds parts of the drone. Drones can also be used to harass ships and make it difficult for adversaries to place air defenses everywhere against them. Increased warnings in Israel about the threat from Iran’s drones is part of broader regional tensions.

However, the fact that Iran appears to be spreading this weapon system everywhere from Syria to Yemen represents a new method of how Iran fights wars. Tehran is also apparently trying to innovate the way drones can be used as threats. That means US defense officials, like those at Central Command, were right to warn of the threat from Iran’s drones. Now, they and other partners in the region, such as Israel, will increasingly have to confront this threat.

Iran often used to show off its drones. Now that Israel highlights this issue and US officials bring it up, Tehran has become more circumspect. However, it is clear that Iran is now training more operators and trying to further standardize production, rather than simply showing off the new exotic drones it created by copying those built in other countries. Iran now wants to innovate on its own.

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