From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc

Special A handout picture provided by Iranian Army office on August 24, 2022 shows kamikaze drones during a two-day drone drill at an undisclosed location in Iran. (AFP)
A handout picture provided by Iranian Army office on August 24, 2022 shows kamikaze drones during a two-day drone drill at an undisclosed location in Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2022

From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc

From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc
  • Yemen’s Houthis and other militias have used Iranian-made drones to target Saudi civilian facilities 
  • Last month Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of Russia 

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: Armed drones designed and manufactured by Iran have given Tehran’s militia proxies across the Middle East a unique capability to wreak havoc throughout the region.

The Houthi militia in Yemen, for instance, has frequently used explosive-laden drones to target Saudi Arabia. Tehran provided these militants with the means and the know-how to assemble and launch these drones to devastating effect.

In September 2019, Iranian drones and cruise missiles were used to attack oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia, causing significant disruption to global oil markets. 

Iranian drones have also been deployed inside Iraq, demonstrating just how widespread their proliferation has been in this volatile region. Last week, US forces said they had shot down an Iranian Mohajer-6 drone heading for Irbil, capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous northern Kurdistan region.

Now, for the first time, Iran’s home-grown unmanned aerial vehicles are being put to the test in a different war altogether. 

In September, Iran’s drones made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of the Russian military, where they appear poised to play a significant role in the eight-month-old eastern European conflict. Ukrainian forces shot down Iranian kamikaze drones sold to Russia in an effort to target civilians, which led President Volodymyr Zelensky to dismiss Iranian diplomats from the country.

 

“It is sad that we have to recognize that the Iranian government is lying, as the Russian Federation government is, because we had contact with Iran’s leaders at the topmost level. We talked to the embassy, we had the ambassadors called up to the Ministry of External Affairs, and we were assured that nothing was sold to Russia, it wasn’t their drones, and nothing of the kind,” he recently told Arab News’s Frankly Speaking.

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people, and they are — you’re right — they are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”

Nicholas Heras, director of strategy and innovation at the New Lines Institute, says there are significant differences in how Russia and the Houthis choose to deploy their fleets of Iranian drones. 

“The Houthis are deploying these loitering munitions in a more strategic manner, generally trying to strike high-value targets inside Yemen but beyond their zone of control or inside Saudi Arabia. Iranian drones serve as the Houthis’ air force on the cheap,” he told Arab News.

“In Ukraine, the Russians are using the Iranian drones in a more tactical sense, using them to strike at Ukrainian artillery or arms depots that are closer to the frontlines. The Russians are basically using these drones like another type of artillery round, whereas the Houthis use them more like intermediate missiles.”

According to US officials, Iran is supplying Russia with “hundreds” of armed drones in a bid to turn the tide of the war against the Western-backed Ukrainian armed forces, which have reclaimed vast swathes of the country’s eastern territory in recent weeks. 

In an exclusive interview this week with Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people. 

“They are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”

Russia has already used several of its newly acquired Iranian loitering munitions, also referred to as kamikaze or suicide drones, in this war. These particular drones are relatively cheap and can be used in large numbers, enabling them to overwhelm enemy defenses, reach their target and self-destruct.

Russia recently employed, or at least attempted to employ, this technique in Ukraine’s southern Odesa port and the city of Mykolaiv using Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munitions. 




A military parade in Septemberm 2022 in Sanaa, during which drones and missiles that have been hallmarks of the Iran-backed militia's military campaign filed past a grandstand. (AFP/Houthi Media Office)

Iranian-made drones have also targeted Ukrainian artillery positions in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s military authorities say they have shot down several such drones, including the larger Mohajer-6 model, in recent days. 

The Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 are two very different drone types, designed to achieve different objectives. 

“Shahed-136 is a loitering munition with a significant range, while Mohajer-6 is a mid-range ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and combat drone with a range of around 200 kilometers,” Samuel Bendett, a research analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, told Arab News. 

“The one Mohajer-6 drone that was recently downed probably fell victim to operator error or Ukrainian EW (electronic warfare) systems.”

Although individually they have different applications, the two drone models have also been known to be used in tandem.




Wreckage of an Iranian Shahed-136, shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces near Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Social Media)

“Russian commentators indicate that Mohajer may have been directing Shahed-136 to target, given that Shahed-136 does not have its own camera and has to rely on GPS for targeting,” said Bendett.

“Mohajer-6 is roughly comparable with the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone in capabilities, which gives the Russians employing it as an ISR and combat system a rough parity with some Ukrainian drone capabilities.”

James Rogers, the DIAS associate professor in war studies within the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark and non-resident senior fellow within the Cornell Tech Policy Lab at Cornell University, also described the Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 drones as very different systems, “designed to fulfill important operational gaps for the Russian military.”

“The Shahed-136 can be used in rudimentary swarms of five drones or less and is roughly comparable to a growing family of loitering drones, like the (American) Switchblade 600 or the (Israeli) Harop,” Rogers told Arab News. 

“In contrast, the Mohajer-6 is a weapons platform that can fulfill a surveillance role and also deploy its own missiles and guided bombs. This makes it broadly comparable to the TB2 type of drone, in the fact that it is a longer endurance multi-purpose weapon.”

According to Bendett, some Ukrainian sources estimate the cost of the Shahed-136 is as little as $20,000 per unit, “making it cheap enough to be mass-produced by the Russians.” 

“In fact, some Russian Telegram channels are indicating that such mass production has already commenced at Russian enterprises,” he said. “If used en masse, they can pose a challenge for the Ukrainian air defenses and cause damage.”




n September, Iran’s drones made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of the Russian military, where they appear poised to play a significant role in the eight-month-old eastern European conflict. (MEHR News Agency)

Nevertheless, Bendett is doubtful Russia’s new Iranian drone capabilities will prove to be a game-changer in the Ukraine conflict.

“They will not be able to reverse Ukrainian gains, since such gains are made by infantry and combined arms operations that hold territory,” he said.

“They can, however, cause a serious headache for the Ukrainians given a possibly high rate of attrition of weapons, systems and personnel due to continued attacks by Shaheds.”

Rogers, meanwhile, believes it is still too soon to determine whether the Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 “will have a transformative impact” on the Russian war effort.

“A number of the Iranian drones have already been shot down by the Ukrainian military, but there are reports of them being used successfully against the US-supplied High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that have been indispensable to Ukrainian forces,” he said. 

Indeed, the GPS-guided Shahed-136 has proven remarkably accurate, as demonstrated by the “recent Ukrainian admission that Shaheds have struck artillery batteries as well as stationary targets like buildings in Odesa,” said Bendett. 

However, the drone model lacks sophisticated electronics, and a robust electronic warfare defense “can interfere with their operation,” he added.




Wreckage of another Iranian Shahed-136, shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces near Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Social Media)

It would be wrong to underestimate the significant advantages drone technology can bring to the battlefield.

According to Rogers, the Shahed-136 is comparable to a modern cruise missile “in that it can hit targets with precision and explode on impact but differs in the fact that it can remain airborne, survey the battlefield and adjust its target in reaction to developments on the ground.

“It can also be used in a multi-drone ‘swarming’ deployment to saturate ground defenses, opening the floodgates — so to speak — to a range of other missiles and rockets,” he said. 

Bendett likewise believes the Shahed-136 has given the Russian military the ability “to launch long-range loitering munitions at targets in large numbers at different tactical and operational depths.”

This is significant because it is “something they have struggled to do in the preceding months given their limited stocks of domestic loitering and combat drones.”

He added: “Russia also gains valuable lessons from Iran’s own use of these drones via their multiple proxies across the Middle East, possibly adding to new tactics and procedures in Ukraine.” 

Aside from providing Russia with lessons and doctrines, these drones also serve as substitutes for Russia’s depleting stockpile of cruise missiles, which will likely take Moscow years to replenish to pre-war levels.




A Ukrainian soldier looks up to the sky after hearing the sound of a drone during a patrol in the frontline city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on September 24, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

“With trade restrictions and embargoes placed on Russia, the military has found it hard to replace lost military assets,” said Rogers. 

“This is why the convenient arrangement with Iran has emerged. It allows Russia to obtain military capabilities it has run low on or does not have the supplies to produce.”

The more battle testing Iran’s drones rack up in Ukraine and across the Middle East, the more sophisticated they are likely to become. That is why Heras believes both Kyiv and Riyadh need to enhance their air defenses to adequately deal with this threat.

“The Ukrainians have used portable anti-air missiles fired by infantry or vehicles to shoot down the Iranian-made Russian drones, albeit with a mix of success and failure,” he said. 

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has expended a large number of expensive Patriot interceptor missiles, which cost millions of dollars per shot, against Houthi drones that cost mere thousands to manufacture. 

“Eventually, Israeli- and American-developed anti-air systems intended for smaller rocket types could be useful for both Ukraine and Saudi Arabia,” said Heras. 

“Especially for Saudi Arabia, which would need these defenses to protect strategic targets that the Houthis prefer to strike.”


Usufruct rights granted for Egypt’s natural reserves to boost ecotourism

A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 December 2022

Usufruct rights granted for Egypt’s natural reserves to boost ecotourism

A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
  • Highlighting “full transparency through the information and data that is published,” Fouad also talked about the government’s nationwide afforestation program, which will see the number of trees reach 2 million next year

CAIRO: In a significant move, Egypt’s government has granted usufruct rights to investors to expand ecotourism in nature reserves for up to 10 years, provided that the local population is employed in the projects involved.

Yasmine Fouad, minister of environment, announced that the program would begin with the Nabq and Ras Mohammed reserves in South Sinai, where restaurants and cafeterias have been set up.

She highlighted the ministry’s efforts to support the local community by enabling them to sell handicrafts and provide food services to visitors at the nature reserves.

Fouad said that 70 percent of the employees at the Wadi El-Gemal Reserve were from the local population.

The number of stations to monitor air pollutants has been increased to 116 nationwide, she said, adding that the ministry publishes a report every three days on air quality and issues alerts if any concentration of pollutants is detetcted in an effort to protect people’s health, especially those with allergies and respiratory issues.

Highlighting “full transparency through the information and data that is published,” Fouad also talked about the government’s nationwide afforestation program, which will see the number of trees reach 2 million next year.

She revealed plans to rehabilitate Egyptian lakes and stop direct sewage flow into them.

The total number of nature reserves in Egypt currently is 31. Natural reserves are estimated to make up more than 15 percent of the country’s total area.

The idea to establish natural reserves stems from Law 102, passed in 1983.

 


Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts
Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts
  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match
Updated 06 December 2022

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match
  • Hani Abu Kush, a board member of the Rafah Services Club, said it wanted to hold the match as part of a sporting project.
  • “The match was like a graduation ceremony at the end, but the media uproar made it a big event,” he told Arab News

GAZA CITY: Religious conservatives have forced the cancelation of a football match for young girls in the Gaza Strip, describing it as an attempt to “replace the hijab with shorts.”
The pressure led to the cancelation of the match for girls aged nine to 12 from the Rafah Services Club and the Rafah Youth Club, which was scheduled for Thursday. Scholars and clerics criticized the match, calling it a “moral disgrace.”
Hani Abu Kush, a board member of the Rafah Services Club, said it wanted to hold the match as part of a sporting project.
“This is a project that started several months ago and included training for girls aged nine to 12. The match was like a graduation ceremony at the end, but the media uproar made it a big event,” he told Arab News.
He said that the club currently did not have any girls’ teams and all that was being done for girls was with external funding.
Abu Kush said he understood that holding matches for girls would be objectionable as “we are a conservative society, but this was a match for young children who are not professional soccer players, and there was no reason for all this fuss.”
Majdi Al-Maghrabi, one of the hard-liners in Rafah, wrote on his Facebook page: “We were informed that this match was canceled at the request of the governor of Rafah.”
He added that “we all hope that these women’s teams will be dissolved”, and accused Fatah member Jibril Rajoub of running a “sabotage project for women’s sports in the Gaza Strip, which aspires to lead our girls to replace the hijab with shorts.”
While his comment drew support, others objected by saying “these are just children.”
Palestinian sports in general suffer from a lack of funding and interest, according to those in charge of the clubs in Gaza, and there is not enough funding for the existing men’s teams.
“The current lack of funding and the financial suffering of the clubs in the Gaza Strip prevent them from developing the capabilities of the existing teams, and prevent them from forming women’s teams in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Kush said.
There are no permanent women’s football teams in Gaza unlike in the West Bank, and women from Gaza are not part of the Palestinian national team.
Alaa Al-Amour, a female football coach, told Arab News: “There is a clear lack of interest (from officials) in Gaza for women’s sports. There is no funding, and clubs in the Gaza Strip are not interested in women’s teams. The federation also does not show sufficient interest in supporting women’s teams.
“All the activities that happen for women in Gaza are part of initiatives of civil institutions or projects that are funded by international and external parties only.”
Al-Amour was a coach with a girls’ football team that traveled to Norway recently, and after the end of the funding, training for that team was stopped.
Female players, whether in training or matches, wear modest kits that do not violate the customs and traditions of the Gaza Strip, and the age groups involved do not exceed 17 years, said Al-Amour.
“We face many obstacles, the most important of which is funding, as well as community pressures that sometimes do not allow girls to play football. In addition to that, Israeli obstacles prevent communication between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The last time the team I trained participated in a West Bank match without my participation as a coach.”


Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian
Updated 06 December 2022

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian
  • Ammar Mefleh, 22, shot dead at point-blank range by officer following scuffle
  • Mefleh grabbed the rifle but then dropped it, at which point the officer drew his pistol and shot him at close range, killing him

LONDON: Witnesses to the killing of a Palestinian have questioned the accounts of Israeli authorities, who say an officer killed the 22-year-old in self-defense, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

Ammar Mefleh was shot dead by an officer at point-blank range in the West Bank on Friday. The killing has sparked widespread condemnation in Palestine, with the UN envoy to the region tweeting that he was “horrified” over Mefleh’s death.

The incident occurred when Mefleh allegedly stabbed the officer in the face following a scuffle.

However, witnesses told the BBC that the man only punched the officer and that there was no knife involved.

It is unclear based on witness testimony and video evidence what led to the incident, but the actions of the officer have been praised in Israel and condemned by Palestinians.

Footage of the incident shows the Israeli officer restraining Mefleh in a headlock, with the latter escaping and trying to seize the policeman’s gun.

Mefleh grabbed the rifle but then dropped it, at which point the officer drew his pistol and shot him at close range, killing him.

Witness Nader Allan told the BBC: “I was standing over there next to the butcher. A settler’s car stopped. I’m not sure if he hit the (Palestinian) guy’s car, or if the guy was walking in the street.

“They started yelling at each other and I heard a shot. The settler shot the guy (Mefleh) in the face. He was bleeding and he fell on the floor.”

Following that initial incident the Israeli officer arrived, eventually leading to Mefleh’s death, Allan said.

Mahmoud Abed, another witness, said he investigated the sound of gunshots after the Israeli driver opened fire.

He added: “We found a guy on the floor with his face covered in blood. A policeman came from far away. He looked at him and kicked him, then the policeman said something on the radio.”

Both witnesses said despite being wounded by the initial shooting, Mefleh confronted the officer who arrived at the scene. This is what led to the scuffle, they added.

Bahaa Odeh, a third witness, said: “Because of how upset I got from what I saw I started shouting at the soldier telling him ‘you’re despicable … there was no danger to your life, why did you kill him?’

“I told him ‘you are a coward … you killed him because he punched you. He has a right to defend himself’.”

As a result of Mefleh’s death, confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli authorities later descended into violence.

In the West Bank this year, more than 150 Palestinians have been killed, almost entirely by Israeli forces.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.