Iran’s currency hit an all-time low as the EU tightened sanctions against the regime
WASHINGTON: The distinctive sound of a wave of misguided weaponry, commonly referred to as suicide bombers, has become familiar in Ukrainian cities since Tehran began supplying the Russian military with the Iran-designed and manufactured Shahed-136 drone.
With a range of around 2,000 km and a explosive power of 30 kg, these destructive and swarming drones have been an almost daily terror to civilians in the capital Kyiv since September, regularly hitting apartment buildings and energy infrastructure.
“Iran’s purchase and deployment of drones has allowed Russia to attack a lot of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” he said Arabic NewsDavid DesRoches, military expert at the American National Defense University.
Designed and built by an Iranian defense equipment manufacturer closely linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Shahed’s drones are low-tech compared to drone systems developed by other countries.
However, its strategic utility lies in the fact that it can be mass-produced at a relatively low cost. According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian military has ordered more than 2,000 of these drones and is in talks to build a joint factory on Russian soil.
A recent Washington Institute report also claims that the Kremlin has expressed interest in purchasing more advanced Iranian drones, such as the Arash, which have a longer range and can carry larger explosives than the Shahed drones.
But before Iranian drones made their debut in the largest and most significant conflict on the European continent since World War II, they were tested on multiple fronts in the Middle East, where the Islamic revolution Security Guard Corps and its proxies were active.
Iran is capable of testing its drone technology against US air defenses stationed in Iraq and the Gulf, including the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Today, this knowledge is proving invaluable to the Russian military against Western-backed Ukraine.
Combat testing of Iranian drones in Ukraine against Western and Soviet-era air defense systems will undoubtedly increase their strategic use in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, creating a new conundrum for security chiefs of Israel and the rest of the Arab region.
Iranian kamikaze drones pose a unique problem for modern armies. Although the advanced air defense systems were able to shoot down most of Shahed’s drones before they reached their targets, a fair number of them would have escaped, swooping down on apartment buildings and Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.
“Drones, flying below conventional air defense radar levels, were able to penetrate Ukraine and cause more damage than the Russian army could do alone,” said DesRoches.
“Distributed drone strikes on civilian infrastructure in a large country means you can never have enough capacity to ‘intercept’ all the drones. It is much more expensive to shoot down drones than to launch them, and no one has enough equipment to protect all the substations in their country.”
He added: “By launching these drones at civilian infrastructure, Russia can force Ukraine to remove its air defenses and maybe at some point be able to deploy missiles and drones against important military targets. Therefore, the impact will be huge.”
According to some analysts, due to the West’s previous inaction in dealing with Iran’s proliferation of “conventional” weapons, which contradict its nuclear ambitions, the regime’s suicide drones are now being exported to Europe, which could pose a long-term threat to the security of the entire continent.
Warnings to Western officials about the threat posed by Iran’s burgeoning drone program have long been ignored, analysts say, allowing the regime to develop a vast manufacturing base and trade network relatively unhindered.
According to a report by British Defense Intelligence, published before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, multiple versions of the Shahed drone were deployed covertly by the regime, including during an attack on the British flag-flying MT Mercer Street tanker in 2021, which resulted in two deaths. , including a British civilian.
Prior to this attack, in September 2019, a series of cruise missiles and suicide drones hit the Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields in Saudi Arabia with full force. US Central Command believes the attack came from Iran crossing Iraqi airspace.
Following this attack, the American Enterprise Institute urged the US government to directly retaliate against the Revolutionary Guards drone installation.
“Increased US economic pressure does not preclude Iran’s military escalation or violation of the nuclear deal, and US military operations only change the exact form of Iran’s military escalation,” he said, US Central Command said at the time.
The 2019 attack was also the first known case of the combined use of cruise missiles and suicide drones to target large energy facilities, setting a dangerous precedent that signaled Europe’s use of similar tactics against Ukraine’s power grid.
Western intelligence officials say the Russian military is increasingly relying on the Shahed drone to replace its more expensive and difficult to manufacture medium-range missiles, partly because of Western sanctions over Russia’s purchase of critical electronic components.
Jason Brodsky, political director of United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based bipartisan think tank, said on Twitter that the United States and its allies have been “falling behind” in the fight against Iran’s drone proliferation.
Even though the Biden administration has announced new sanctions targeting the Iranian arms manufacturer responsible for building the Shahed drone, Brodsky believes the West has wasted valuable time that could have been spent addressing the Iranian drone threat.
“Washington and its allies should have focused on this a decade ago when it came to Iran. But the nuclear file dominated everything,” he said, referring to the largely defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). .
Omri Ceren, US Senator Ted Cruz’s foreign policy adviser, was even more outspoken in his criticism of the Biden administration – for allowing Iran’s drone proliferation to this point and relying on Russia as a go-between with Iran in nuclear negotiations.
He posted on Twitter: “The Biden team has made it a priority to weaken arms restrictions between Iran and Russia. They are rushing to the United Nations to lift the arms embargo against Iran.”
Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration’s national security adviser, recently acknowledged that Iran is likely “contributing to widespread war crimes” in Ukraine by actively supplying the Russian army with large quantities of combat drones and other weapons.
However, serious questions remain about whether new sanctions on Iran’s drone manufacturing industry come too late, after years of political focus on striking a nuclear deal with Tehran.
The lessons provided by Israel, perhaps most experienced in neutralizing the Iranian drone threat, could provide greater clarity to US and European policymakers, prompting a quicker response.
According to Israeli defense think tank Alma, Iran’s extraterritorial Al-Quds Force has set up a joint drone production facility with a secretive division of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia known as Unit 127.
Satellite imagery provided by Alma shows what appear to be extensive bases, believed to belong to Hezbollah, set up in Al-Qusayr, Syria, near the Lebanese border, and in the city of Palmyra, which sits at the edge of the Syrian desert. .
Late last year, several airstrikes attributed to Israel (though never officially claimed) directly targeted these bases and were suspected to be hubs for joint drone manufacturing. Some analysts would like to see the West also target Iranian drone technology at its source.
Meanwhile, DesRoches said Ukraine’s Western allies should continue to provide air defense systems, while helping strengthen the structural integrity of critical infrastructure to withstand air attacks.
“Instead of starting with threats and trying to overcome them, a country should start with its vulnerabilities and work to protect them, assuming that drones will get through,” he suggested.
Strengthening key energy facilities and developing a multi-level defense plan based on these assumptions is more realistic for meeting urgent needs by reducing the impact of Iranian drones, he said.
DesRoches argued, “Soldiers don’t like to think that way, and the profits that defense companies get from sandbags are far less than those from surface-to-air missiles. But national security interests are best served by vulnerability-based drone threat assessments.”
It appears that the Biden administration realized—too late—that Iran’s asymmetric drone capabilities and proliferation had become a threat to global security.
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com