LONDON: Iran is developing a so-called “kamikaze drone” program in the wake of heightened maritime warfare, analysts have warned.
Experts from the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) have warned that the new exploding drone tactics are a “core element” of Tehran’s efforts to influence the region.
The warning comes as the West reels from a drone strike on a tanker on a key Gulf shipping route on July 30, with Iran denying involvement. Security guard and British Army veteran Adrian Underwood was killed alongside the MT Mercer Street’s Romanian captain when it was hit by the explosive drone.
In a separate incident soon after, the MV Asphalt Princess was boarded by armed men — suspected Iranian commandos — who fled when Western forces approached the vessel. Tehran has again denied involvement.
CEP analyst Daniel Roth said: “The Iranian threat to shipping in the Gulf is substantial and borne out by numerous examples of Iranian attacks, hijackings, detentions and increasingly, drone strikes.
“Iran considers the Gulf its private lake, which it deigns to share with its littoral Arab neighbors but volubly resents foreign powers exercising their right to freedom of navigation in international waters.”
He added: “With its ancient Persian history and self-perception as a great power, the fact that its American enemy has a naval base in Bahrain and regularly deploys the Fifth Fleet around the Gulf is a slap in the face to Tehran. Since Iran lacks global deployment capabilities, it does what it can to project and assert its power in its own backyard.
“This frequently entails the snaring of commercial vessels. Generally the target vessel corresponds with some particular foreign policy provocation or score-settling.
“Thus ships with even tangential connections to Israel are always vulnerable. At other times, Iran has detained a South Korea tanker to coerce Seoul to release funds and a British tanker in retaliation for the Royal Navy detention of an Iranian tanker transporting oil to the sanctioned Assad regime in Syria. These detentions are always executed on the flimsiest of pretenses.”
Roth, the Washington-based CEP’s research director, told Metro.co.ukthat the recent maritime incursions are part of a wider program of a new drone army that the regime is developing.
“Iran has an army of drones at its disposal, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) operated by remotely stationed personnel and designed to explode upon impact.
“Iran’s military drone program is a core element of Iran’s expanding footprint around the region, used by both Tehran and its terrorist proxies.”
He added: “Over the past few years, Iran has used drones to harass US air carriers, threaten freedom of navigation in international waters, leverage military gains in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, and violate Israeli and Saudi airspace.”
CEP researchers have identified Iran as the manufacturer of drones used by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, where the terror group has attacked oil fields and civilian sites.
“Iran’s drone program is an increasing destabilizing threat used for not merely deterrence but for active confrontation,” Roth said.
“In April this year, Iran’s state-operated Press TV aired an unsettling video taken seven years ago from an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) drone flying above a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf, plus ‘kamikaze’ drone footage. Iran’s drone warfare capabilities have evidently expanded considerably since this 2014 footage.”
Roth warned that the regime is set on “maintaining dominance over the Gulf’s waterways,” and that it is keen to secure “strategic interests in expanding and cementing its influence over the region.”
The analyst said that “Iran regularly ferries men and materiel to its Houthi allies in Yemen and continues to ship both oil and weapons to its Syrian ally. Iran also has a strategic interest in the simple projection of power and ostensible regional hegemony.
“With its IRGC-Navy fast boats, harassing big US ships or detaining commercial vessels on implausible pretexts are two relatively low-cost ways to achieve this.”
Roth warned that the UK will continue to be targeted by Tehran due to its standing as “little Satan” among the regime’s elites.
He said: “Britain is regarded in regime circles as the ‘little Satan’ to America’s ‘big Satan,’ an untrustworthy stooge of Western imperialism. Despite the UK’s ongoing support of the Iran Nuclear Deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran maintains a frosty contempt for Britain in all other areas.”
Tehran is currently engaged in several diplomatic rows with London, most notably over British citizens who are jailed over what the UK government claims are dubious and fake charges.