Why drone war by proxy is Iran’s favored form of asymmetric warfare

Special A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office on January 5, 2021, shows military officials inspecting drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)
A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office on January 5, 2021, shows military officials inspecting drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)
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Updated 21 October 2021

Why drone war by proxy is Iran’s favored form of asymmetric warfare

A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office on January 5, 2021, shows military officials inspecting drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)
  • Targets of drone strikes include airports, oil storage sites, commercial shipping, and military and diplomatic facilities
  • Experts say IRGC using its proxies in Yemen and the wider region to launch attacks with plausible deniability

WASHINGTON, D.C.: In recent months multiple waves of attacks by so-called loitering munitions, a type of unmanned aerial vehicle designed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have been launched against civilian facilities in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Iran’s political pawn in Yemen, the Houthis, has been given the know-how and components to use the technology as part of a regional strategy that has led to a spike in drone attacks throughout the Middle East.

In one particularly devastating attack, on Sept. 14, 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil-processing facilities were badly damaged by a combined missile and drone strike, sending shock waves crashing through the global oil market.

The drones are relatively cheap to manufacture and can be difficult to defend against, particularly the loitering “suicide” munitions that have been used with increasing frequency by Iran and its proxies against Arab, American and Israeli interests across the Middle East.

The targets include civilian airports, major oil storage sites, commercial shipping, and both military and diplomatic facilities.

Defense policy planners and military commanders are hard pressed to come up with a strategy that can effectively counter Iran’s successful harnessing of asymmetric warfare to its domestic drone-production capabilities.

Ali Bakir, a research assistant professor at Qatar University’s Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, said Tehran is leveraging drone strikes by its extremist proxies to strengthen its position in the region. A coordinated response by regional allies is needed to prevent further attacks, he added.

“Although not of sophisticated nature, Iran’s fleet of drones poses a growing threat to its neighbors and security in the Gulf,” Bakir told Arab News.

“This threat stems from the fact that Tehran is using drones with relatively primitive technology as missiles to compensate for the lack of adequate ammunition and advanced targeting systems. Equipping the IRGC’s regional franchise with these drones enables Iran to extend its reach and lethality.

“Surprisingly, despite the serious damage caused by the Iranian drones used to attack Saudi Arabia’s strategic oil facilities in 2019, no adequate and strategic response has yet been developed to counter Tehran’s drone threat, either by the Arab states or by the US.”

The IRGC’s use of proxies, such as the Houthis and Iraqi Shiite militia groups such as Kataeb Hezbollah, to launch drone strikes gives it a measure of plausible deniability. To date it has not faced any major military pushback against its expanding production line.




A missile fired by Houthi militants at Saudi Arabia in 2017 had been made in Iran. (AFP/File Photo)

This has allowed drone attacks to continue, including the strike this month on King Abdullah Airport in the southern Saudi city of Jazan that injured at least 10 civilians.

Analysts have also highlighted the ability of Iran to circumvent global sanctions to acquire the necessary components and technology to mass-produce explosives-laden UAVs.

This has allowed designated terrorist groups, trained and equipped by the IRGC’s extraterritorial Quds Force, to use increasingly sophisticated drones in locations ranging from the Golan Heights to the Strait of Hormuz.

Without a comprehensive regional strategy that employs a more active posture to deter and weaken Iran’s combat-drone capabilities, Tehran and its transnational network of militant groups is likely to conclude that the benefits outweigh the cost of escalating attacks.

“I believe that the response to Iran’s growing threat should be proactive, collective, and multi-layered,” said Bakir.




This handout image provided by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Media on February 10, 2021 reportedly shows a view of the damaged hull of a Flyadeal Airbus A320-214 aircraft on the tarmac at Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia's southern Asir province. (AFP/Saudi Ministry of Media/File Photo)

“In other words, countering Tehran’s drone threat should incorporate intelligence efforts to block foreign components smuggled from Germany, France, the US and other countries into Iran to be used in its drone program.

“On a military level, while it is important to develop dynamic, technological and cost-efficient solutions to address this challenge, the response should not rely solely on defensive measures. Acquiring advanced capabilities of the same nature can constitute a credible deterrence and establish a favorable balance of threat.

“The problem remains with Iran’s armed militias, which are harder to deter and have mostly little to lose. When it is necessary, drone shipments should be targeted before reaching them. Stealth attacks on Iran’s militias that use these drones should be executed to raise the cost and, whenever necessary, let Iran bear the responsibility.”

During a recent conference in Chicago, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization of exiled Iranian opposition figures, attempted to highlight to a broad US audience the imperative of recognizing the growing national security threat posed by Iran’s drone program.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI’s Washington office, said the mastermind behind Tehran’s drone program, Brig. Gen. Saeed Aghajani, was personally responsible for orchestrating the 2019 attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

“There has to be a comprehensive policy to succeed in containing the Iranian regime’s threat regarding its drones and supporting its proxies,” Jafarzadeh told Arab News.

“The central element of the right policy should be accountability. When Tehran wages terrorism and takes people hostage and hires proxies, it uses them as a tool to gain concessions from its counterparts. So far, because of the lack of accountability, regime terrorism has actually been empowered.




A handout picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on February 27, 2021 shows debris on the roof of a building in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh in the aftermath of a missile attack claimed by Yemen's Houthi militia. (AFP/SPA/File Photo)

“Instead, there should be consequences for the regime’s illegal and rogue behavior. When former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was eliminated, it made the Iranian public very happy, it created fear among the IRGC and Quds Force commanders, it demoralized its proxies, and it further shrank the influence of the regime in the region.

“Tehran threatened to take revenge but that has not come in the past 22 months. Instead, the regime lost several other key persons with no ability to retaliate. This is the best example we have that Tehran is much weaker than it claims.”

However, it appears Washington is unlikely to embark on a more proactive policy that would raise the stakes for Iran and its proxies. The Biden administration has already lifted sanctions on a number of figures linked to Iran’s ballistic missiles program, and has signaled it remains keen to restart negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

These moves suggest there is little appetite in the White House to tackle head-on the low-intensity drone campaign being waged across the Middle East by the IRGC.

Those, like Jafarzadeh, who strongly disagree with the US administration’s more conciliatory approach say any revived negotiations should not exclude holding Iran to account for the drone attacks.

“Tehran has to pay the price for every terror plot, every missile they fire, every UAV they launch, and every person they kill in the region or in Iran,” Jafarzadeh said.




A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office on January 5, 2021, shows military officials inspecting drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)

“For the Muslim and Arab nations, it is very important to rely on the experience of the past 40 years. The Iranian regime wants to make a show of force to obligate the countries of the region to provide concessions to the Iranian regime, but only decisiveness has worked.

“Most importantly, this regime is very weak and vulnerable and its strategic and regional resources are very limited now.”

That Tehran feels emboldened enough to launch drone strikes against oil tankers, international airports and other civilian targets, despite an array of sanctions designed to prevent them and their proxies developing such capabilities, shows that this strategy needs a rethink, according to analysts.

“We believe that sanctions will not help,” Tal Beeri, head of the research department at the Alma Research and Education Center in Israel, told Arab News.

“The Iranians know how to act militarily under sanctions, both in terms of force buildup and in terms of the use of force. The last few years have proven this well.”




A handout photo made available by the Iranian Army office on January 5, 2021, shows drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)

If sanctions are proving insufficient, neutralizing the strategic threat posed by the Iranian network of proxy-enabled drone strikes will probably require a measure of cooperation and knowledge-sharing by states in the region that have found themselves in the crosshairs of Iran’s proxy militant groups.

Iran is not the only country in the region with a robust drone program. Greater regional cooperation, including better intelligence sharing and the outside acquisition of drone weapon systems, might offer an antidote to Tehran’s ambitions on a wide front.

Static air-defense systems can only hold the line up to a point against the increasingly sophisticated drone tactics and technology in the hands of the IRGC’s proxies.

“The essence of the threat is the wide deployment and accessibility of the UAVs program,” said Beeri.

“The program has become accessible to all of Iran’s proxies in the Middle East. Today all proxies have intelligence-gathering UAVs and attacking UAVs, and they know how to operate them with great professionalism.

“The UAVs program is a fact. In our opinion, it cannot be thwarted — but can be disrupted.”


Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
Updated 09 August 2022

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
  • Egyptian envoy called on Israeli authorities to lift their blockade of Gaza, halt illegal settlement activity, and respect the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Israeli ambassador accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad of taking its orders from Iranian “puppet masters” whose “hatred know no boundaries”

NEW YORK: Although a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, brokered by Egypt late on Sunday, put an end to intense fighting and appears to be holding, it is fragile and the underlying causes of the latest eruption of violence remain, the UN said on Monday.

It added that the cycle of violence will only stop with a political resolution to the decades-old conflict that ends the Israeli occupation and includes a two-State solution, based on the June 1967 borders and in line with UN resolutions and international law.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that 46 Palestinians were killed and 360 injured during the recent escalation, during which Israel launched 147 strikes on Gaza and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel. Hundreds of homes and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed. The figures are provisional and “verification is ongoing,” he added.

“While fully recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns I reiterate that under international law, all use of force must be proportionate and take all feasible steps to avoid civilian casualties,” Wennesland said. “Children, in particular, must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way.”

The UAE, together with China, France, Ireland and Norway, requested the emergency meeting to discuss the recent developments in the Gaza Strip.

Wennesland said that the escalation had exacerbated already chronic shortages of essential medicines in Gaza, and that the closure by Israel of the Erez crossing into the Strip for six days had severe humanitarian consequences for Gazans, including preventing patients traveling for medical treatment in Israel.

“The closures also worsened the already precarious food-security situation in the Gaza Strip,

reducing stocks of basic foods, particularly wheat flour,” he said.

Wennesland thanked Egypt for the role it played in securing the ceasefire, alongside the UN, and also thanked Qatar, Jordan, the US and the Palestinian Authority for their deescalation efforts.

“Together, these efforts helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war and allowed for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza starting earlier today,” he told the council members.

He welcomed the “timely reopening” of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings by Israel following the ceasefire, and he called on the leaderships of Israel and Palestine, along with the international community, to step up diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations aimed at securing a viable, two-state solution.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the UN, accused Israel of “murdering and oppressing an entire nation.” He added that Israel’s “right to security has become a license to kill and needs to be revoked,” as he urged the Security Council to “act now.”

“If you are against violence, do not exclude Israeli violence,” he added. “Do not justify it. Are you ready to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ as the highest authority responsible for the maintenance of peace and security?

“Israeli kills our people because it can. When will the world show them that it cannot?”

Mansour told council members that “defenseless Palestinian families need your support; not a nuclear power, not an occupying power,” as he asked council members “to drag the two parties to the peace process, today before tomorrow.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, accused PIJ members of taking their orders from Iranian puppet masters, adding: “Their hate knows no boundaries.”

He drew a parallel between the PIJ and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization to which recently killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri once belonged.

“EIJ and PIJ share more than a similar name,” Erdan said. “They share the same value of annihilating the free and modern world that we live in.”

While the world welcomed the killing of Al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike on July 31, Erdan said that “UN officials suddenly express deep concern when Israel does the same. It’s hard to understand such double standards.”

He added: “The only remedy for Gazans is for their leaders to stop trying to annihilate Israel and stop investing in terror infrastructure.”

Erdan urged the Security Council to unite behind the condemnation of the PIJ: “Holding a debate and not using the opportunity to fully condemn their war crimes will motivate them to keep (committing more such crimes).”

He also thanked Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his efforts in helping to broker the ceasefire and “restoring stability in our region.”

Osama Abdel Khalek Mahmoud, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, called on Israeli authorities to end all of their illegal practices and halt the settlement expansion in the West Bank, which he described as “the most flagrant violation of Palestinian basic human rights,” and to lift the blockade of Gaza and allow food and fuel to begin flowing back into the Strip.

He also called on Israel to respect the legal and historical status of the holy sites in Eastern Jerusalem, urged all parties to refrain from targeting civilians, and asked the international community to help revive the peace process.

Mohammed Abushahab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed deep concern about the recent violence in Gaza and stressed the need for all parties to abide by their responsibilities under international law and international humanitarian law. He also condemned the Israeli incursion into Al-Aqsa Mosque as a provocative action.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza cannot bear more shocks,” Abushahab said as he welcomed the truce and offered his country’s “sincere appreciation” to El-Sisi for his role in helping to restore calm.

Abushahab reiterated his country’s support for all regional and international efforts aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East, and renewed its support for a two-state solution.


Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts
Updated 09 August 2022

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

JEDDAH: Demonstrators in the southern Iraqi province of Basra blocked roads on Monday in protests over power cuts that left many without electricity in 50C heat.

People took to the streets and burned tires, blocking the main road to the provincial capital. Meanwhile followers of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr continued a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament building to demand early elections. Demonstrators in Basra said they supported Sadr’s protest and were tired of government corruption.

“It’s not the first time we protest and it won’t be the last,” said Ali Hussein, 35. “We support him, and we ask that he punish the corrupt.”

The protests began after the collapse of the electricity grid in six southern provinces due to excessive demand amid high temperatures. Basra Gov. Asaad Al-Eidani said the latest cuts were due to a fire at a power station.

In the holy city of Najaf, a weapons depot belonging to the Iran-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi network of paramilitary groups exploded in the heat.


Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
Updated 09 August 2022

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
  • Three-day Israeli assault kills 44, including 15 children * Power plant restarts as fragile truce takes hold

GAZA CITY: Gazans on Monday buried their dead, combed through the rubble of their homes and counted the cost of another violent Israeli onslaught.

At least 44 Palestinians, including four women and 15 children, were killed in the three-day bombardment, and more than 350 were injured. Eighteen homes were completely destroyed, 1,675 were damaged  and 71 were made uninhabitable.

The attack began on Friday when Israel launched an aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions, the biggest assault since Israel’s 11-day war on Gaza last year.

The violence finally ended late on Sunday with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. “We received the news of the ceasefire with joy and happiness and we went back to our work,” said Gaza shopkeeper Hazem Douima. “We did not want more bloodshed.”
Bereaved families buried the victims. At one funeral joined by hundreds of mourners in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, a single family laid four children to rest.

Sobhi El-Wawy, 44, told Arab News: “We thank God that we are still alive. They were hard days. There was bombing everywhere, it was frightening for adults and children. This is not the first time this has happened, and I don’t think it will be the last.

“We want to live as the rest of the world’s population lives ... we do not want wars and we do not want escalation, we want peace.”

Rahma Al-Borai said: “We are almost back to normal life, but the lives of those who lost their children or loved ones will be much more difficult.

“We live in Gaza under a harsh life, there is a lot of poverty, and there is a lot of pain, and unfortunately no one looks at us with this view ... the world is unjust.

“Look how the world dealt with Ukraine, and how they deal with the Palestinians. We are under bombardment ... we are dying for no reason. What we want is only freedom.”

As the fragile truce took hold on Monday, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing to supply fuel for Gaza’s only power plant, generating eight hours of electricity a day. It also reopened the Erez crossing for hospitalpatients, some diplomats and foreigners.

Palestinians cannot yet cross the border to work, which Israel said was dependent on a period of calm, and a security assessment.


Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case
Updated 08 August 2022

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court sentenced a former health minister to probation and a fine on Monday for obstructing justice in connection with the protracted extradition case against a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her students in Australia.

Yaakov Litzman, a former health minister and longtime ally of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned from parliament earlier this year after striking a plea deal with prosecutors.

He was accused of pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations to make it appear that Malka Leifer was unfit to stand trial.

Leifer was extradited to Australia in January 2021 after a six-year legal battle that strained relations between the two countries and angered Australia’s Jewish community.

Leifer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her trial is expected to start later this month.

Litzman was health minister during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic but resigned in April 2020 in the face of a public uproar over his handling of the crisis.  He was charged with fraud and breach of trust earlier this year, but pleaded guilty to the breach of trust charge in the Leifer case.

In Monday’s hearing, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court upheld the plea deal and sentenced Litzman to eight months of probation and a $900 fine.

He and Leifer are members of the country’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Last year, then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Litzman had used his position “to advance the interests of private individuals.”

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that Litzman used his influence to prevent a friend’s deli from being shut down over health concerns.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the court’s acceptance of the “lenient and shameful” plea deal erodes public trust and law enforcement’s ability to perform its duty.


Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
Updated 08 August 2022

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
  • A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people

ALGIERS: Six migrants were found dead at sea and others were missing after their boat sank on Monday off the coast of Algeria, local television reported, adding six survivors were rescued.

“Six bodies were retrieved and six injured people, including a pregnant woman, have been transferred to hospital at Bainem” west of the capital Algiers, private television channel Ennahar said.

The boat capsized around 4 a.m. local time, it added.

A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people.

The boat’s occupants originated from various sub-Saharan African countries.  They were attempting to reach Europe.

More than 2,350 would-be migrants have been rescued or intercepted in the first seven months of this year off Algeria, according to data provided by national authorities.

Spain is a favored destination for migrants embarking from the North African nation. Tunisian coast guards “rescued” more than 250 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the North African country’s National Guard said on Sunday.

Maritime authorities “were able ... to rescue 255 would-be migrants, including 170 people of various African nationalities, with the remainder Tunisians,” the National Guard said in a statement on Facebook. The attempted crossings — 17 in total — took place on the night of Friday to Saturday from the east of Tunisia, according to National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli.

The statement did not indicate whether any vessels had got into difficulty or sunk, but did note that an unspecified sum of cash was seized during the operations.

In a separate statement later on Sunday, the Tunisian navy announced that 22 other would-be migrants, including nine children and three women, had been rescued on Saturday.

They were all Tunisian, the statement said, adding that they were rescued on a boat 80 km off the island of Kuriat near the eastern coastal city of Monastir.

The National Guard on Friday had carried out a “pre-emptive operation,” arresting five people who were “preparing to lead an illegal immigration bid departing from the coast of Sousse province in the east of the country,” spokesman Jebabli said.

The Tunisian coast guard announced in mid-July that 455 migrants had been “rescued” in several operations off the northern, eastern and southern coasts of the country. Attempts by migrants to reach Europe from the North African coastline tend to increase in spring and summer, due to the lower risk of stormy seas.

Tunisia and Libya are principal departure points and Italy a favored destination.