Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief

Analysis Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief
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Firefighters struggle to halt a blaze after a Russian attack using Iranian drones destroyed a Kyiv residential building. (AFP)
Analysis Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief
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Iranian kamikaze drones ready for launch during a drill in Iran. (AFP)
Analysis Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief
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Ukrainian military experts show downed drones that Russia allegedly uses for striking critical infrastructure and other targets in Ukraine. (AFP file)
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Updated 22 January 2023

Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief

Drone havoc in Ukraine puts Iran’s asymmetric warfare advantage into sharp relief
  • Russia’s use of UAVs shows folly of ignoring warnings about Iranian conventional weapons threat
  • Strategic utility of Shahed-136 lies in the fact it can be mass produced at a relatively low cost

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The distinctive sound of an approaching wave of loitering munitions, commonly known as kamikaze drones, has become all too familiar over the cities of Ukraine since Iran began supplying the Russian military with its domestically designed and manufactured Shahed-136.

With its roughly 2,000 km range and 30 kg explosive payload, these destructive, swarming drones have become an almost daily terror for civilians in the capital Kyiv since September, routinely striking apartment buildings and energy infrastructure.

“The Russian purchase and deployment of Iranian drones has allowed Russia to attack the broad range of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” David DesRoches, a military expert at the US National Defense University, told Arab News.

Designed and built by an Iranian defense manufacturer closely linked to the regime’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Shahed is low-tech compared with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems developed by other nations.

However, their strategic utility lies in the fact that they 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 has been in talks to establish a joint manufacturing facility on Russian soil.

A recent report by the Washington Institute also claims the Kremlin has expressed interest in purchasing more advanced Iranian drones, such as the Arash, which has a longer range and can carry a larger explosive payload than the Shahed.




A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP file)

But before Iran’s drones made their debut in the largest and most significant conflict on the European continent since the Second World War, they were battle-tested across multiple fronts in the Middle East where the IRGC and its proxies are active.

Iran has been able to trial its drone technology against US-built air defenses stationed in Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, including the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Now that know-how is proving invaluable to the Russian military against the Western-backed Ukrainians.

Battle-testing of Iranian drones in Ukraine against Western and Soviet-era air defense systems will undoubtedly also enhance their strategic use in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, creating new security headaches for Israel and the wider Arab region.




Wreckage of an Iranian kamikaze drone, which was shot down in Odessa on September 25, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

Kamikaze drones pose a unique problem for modern militaries. Although advanced air defense systems are able to shoot down most Shaheds before they reach their intended target, a sufficient number will inevitably break through, raining down on Ukrainian apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure.

“The drones, which fly below the radar level of conventional air defense radar, are able to penetrate into Ukraine and cause more damage than the Russians would be able to do on their own,” DesRoches said.




Firefighters struggle to halt a blaze after a Russian attack using Iranian drones destroyed a Kyiv residential building. (AFP)

“A distributed drone attack against civilian infrastructure across a large country means that you will never have enough assets to ‘kill’ all the drones. It is far more expensive to defeat a drone than to launch one, and no one has enough equipment to protect every electrical substation in their country.”

He added: “By targeting them at civilian infrastructure, Russia is able to force Ukraine to dissipate its air defense assets and may be able, at some future point, to mass missiles and drones against a significant military target. So their impact has been significant.”

According to some analysts, as a result of prior Western inaction on the proliferation of Iran’s “conventional” weapons, as opposed to its nuclear ambitions, the regime’s kamikaze drones have now been exported to Europe, potentially posing a long-term security threat to the wider continent.

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These analysts say that warnings to Western officials about the threat posed by Iran’s burgeoning drone program long went unheeded, allowing the regime to develop a large manufacturing base and trade network relatively unimpeded.

According to a UK defense intelligence report, published before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, various versions of the Shahed have been covertly deployed by the regime, including in an attack on the British-flagged oil tanker MT Mercer Street in 2021, which killed two, including a British civilian.

Prior to that attack, in September 2019, a volley of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones slammed into the Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields in Saudi Arabia. US Central Command believes the attack originated from Iran, crossing Iraqi airspace.




Wreckage of Iranian weapons used to attack Saudi Arabia's Khurais oil field and Aramco facilities in Abqaiq in 2019 are displayed at a Defense Ministry press conference. (AN file photo)

Following that attack, the American Enterprise Institute urged the US government to retaliate directly against IRGC drone facilities.

“Increasing American economic pressure has not deterred Iranian military or nuclear deal-violation escalation, and American military actions have only changed the precise shape of Iranian military escalation,” it said at the time.

The 2019 attack was also the first known instance of the combined use of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones to target a major energy facility, setting a dangerous precedent that foreshadowed the same tactic’s use in Europe against Ukraine’s power grid.

Western intelligence officials believe the Russian military is growing increasingly reliant on Shaheds as a substitute for more expensive and difficult-to-manufacture long-range precision guided intermediate range missiles, in part due to Western sanctions on Russia’s purchase of crucial electronic components.




This handout picture provided by the Iranian Army on May 28, 2022, shows Iranian military commanders visiting an underground drone base in an unknown location in Iran. (AFP)

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based bipartisan think tank, tweeted that the US and its allies had been “behind the curve” in tackling Iranian drone proliferation.

Although the Biden administration has announced fresh sanctions targeting Iranian arms manufacturers responsible for building Shaheds, Brodsky said the West squandered precious time that could have been spent nipping the Iranian drone threat in the bud.

“Washington and allies should have been laser focused on this a decade ago with respect to Iran. But the nuclear file dominated all,” he said, referring to the now largely defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Omri Ceren, foreign policy adviser to US Senator Ted Cruz, was even more direct in his criticism of the Biden White House — for allowing Iran’s drone proliferation to reach this point and relying on Russia as the go-between with Iran on nuclear negotiations.

He tweeted: “Team Biden has made it a day 1 priority to weaken arms restrictions between Iran and Russia. They rushed to the UN to rescind the arms embargo vs Iran.”




European Union delegates attend talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal. (AFP file)

Jake Sullivan, the administration’s national security adviser, recently acknowledges that Iran was likely “contributing to widespread war crimes” in Ukraine by actively providing a large number of combat drones and other weapons to the Russian military.

Nevertheless, serious questions remain over whether new sanctions on Iran’s drone manufacturing industry will come too little too late following years of a singular policy focus on reaching a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Lessons provided by Israel, which has perhaps the most experience of neutralizing the Iranian drone threat, could offer US and European policymakers greater clarity, encouraging a more rapid response.

According to the Israeli defense think tank Alma, Iran’s extraterritorial Quds Force has established joint drone production facilities with a secretive division of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, known as Unit 127.




Military drones are displayed at a Hezbollah memorial landmark in the hilltop bastion of Mleeta, near the Lebanese southern village of Jarjouaa. (AFP file)

Satellite imagery provided by Alma shows what appear to be sprawling bases, which reportedly belong to Hezbollah, established in Al-Qusayr, Syria, near the Lebanese border, and in the far eastern Syrian desert city of Palmyra.

A number of airstrikes late last year attributed to Israel (although never officially claimed) directly targeted these bases and suspected joint drone manufacturing centers. Some analysts would like to see the West similarly target Iran’s drone technology at its source.

In the meantime, DesRoches said Ukraine’s Western allies must continue to provide air defense systems, while also helping to reinforce the structural integrity of critical infrastructure to withstand air attacks.

“Instead of starting with the threat and trying to defeat it, a state needs to start with its vulnerabilities and look to protect them, assuming that a drone will get through,” he said.

Hardening key energy facilities and developing a multilayered defensive plan based on this assumption was more realistic in meeting immediate needs in blunting the impact of Iranian drones, he said.

“Soldiers don’t like to think in these ways, and the profit a defense firm will make on sandbags is much less than will be made on a surface to air missile. But national security interests are best served by a vulnerability-based assessment of drone threats.”

It does appear the Biden administration is coming to the realization — belatedly — that Iran’s asymmetric drone capabilities and proliferation have become a global security threat.

 


Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter
Updated 13 sec ago

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter
BAGHDAD: Iraqi activists protested Sunday to demand a law against domestic violence, days after a YouTuber was strangled by her father in a killing that has outraged the conservative country.
Tiba Al-Ali, 22, was killed by her father on January 31 in the southern province of Diwaniyah, interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said on Twitter on Friday.
Maan said there had been an attempt to mediate between the young woman and her relatives to resolve a “family dispute.” The father later surrendered to the police and confessed to murdering his daughter.
On Sunday, security forces prevented some 20 activists from demonstrating outside the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, and they gathered instead at a road leading to the building, an AFP journalist said.
Some held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held to account.”
“We demand laws to protect women, especially laws against domestic violence,” 22-year-old protester Rose Hamid told AFP.
“We came here to protest against Tiba’s murder and against all others. Who will be the next victim?“
Another demonstrator, Lina Ali, said: “We will keep mobilizing because of rising domestic violence and killings of women.”
On the sidelines of Sunday’s demonstration, human rights activist Hanaa Edwar was received by a magistrate from the Supreme Judicial Council to whom she presented the protesters’ grievances.
Tiba Al-Ali had lived in Turkiye since 2017 and was visiting Iraq when she was killed, a security official in Diwaniyah told AFP.
In Turkiye she had gained a following on YouTube, posting videos of her daily life in which her fiance often appeared.
Recordings have been shared on social media by a friend of Ali, and picked up by activists, reportedly of conversations with the father, angry because she was living in Turkiye.
In the recordings, she also accuses her brother of sexual harassment.
AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the voice recordings.

Iran’s supreme leader issues pardon for ‘tens of thousands’ of prisoners — IRNA

Iran’s supreme leader issues pardon for ‘tens of thousands’ of prisoners — IRNA
Updated 05 February 2023

Iran’s supreme leader issues pardon for ‘tens of thousands’ of prisoners — IRNA

Iran’s supreme leader issues pardon for ‘tens of thousands’ of prisoners — IRNA

DUBAI: Iran’s supreme leader has pardoned “tens of thousands” of prisoners including some arrested in recent anti-government protests, state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday, after a deadly state crackdown helped quell the nationwide unrest.
However, the pardon approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came with conditions, according to details announced in state media reports, which said the measure would not apply to any of the numerous dual nationals held in Iran.
State news agency IRNA said those accused of “corruption on earth” — a capital charge brought against some protesters, four of whom have been executed — would also not be pardoned.
Neither would it apply to those charged with “spying for foreign agencies” or those “affiliated with groups hostile to the Islamic Republic,” state media reported.
Iran was swept by protests following the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the country’s morality police last September. Iranians from all walks of life took part, marking one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
According to the HRANA activist news agency, about 20,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, which the authorities accused Iran’s foreign enemies of fomenting.
Rights groups say over 500 have been killed in the crackdown, including 70 minors. At least four people have been hanged, according to the Iranian judiciary.
In a letter to Khamenei requesting the pardon, judiciary head Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said: “During recent events, a number of people, especially young people, committed wrong actions and crimes as a result of the indoctrination and propaganda of the enemy.
Protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began.
“Since the foreign enemies and anti-revolutionary currents’ plans have been foiled, many of these youth now regret their actions,” Ejei wrote.
Khamenei approved the pardons in honor of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
It would not apply to those “facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, (and) committing destruction and arson of state property.”
“Naturally, those who do not express regret for their activities and give a written commitment for not repeating those activities, will not be pardoned,” deputy judiciary chief Sadeq Rahimi said, state media reported.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group said this week that at least 100 detained protesters faced possible death sentences.
Amnesty International has criticized Iranian authorities for what it called “sham trials designed to intimidate those participating in the popular uprising that has rocked Iran.”


Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye
Updated 05 February 2023

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

Bus crash kills at least 8, injures dozens in western Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A passenger bus crashed off a road and overturned in western Turkiye Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens.
The governor’s office of Afyonkarahisar province said the bus was traveling from the southeastern Diyarbakir province to the Aegean city of Bodrum.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 42 people were injured, with three in critical condition.
Videos from the scene showed ambulances lined up and a crane holding the bus up.
An injured passenger with a broken arm told official Anadolu news agency that he was half asleep when the bus “flew.” He said people were stuck underneath the bus.
The bus was operated by a company called Star Has Diyarbakir.


Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor
Updated 05 February 2023

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

CAIRO: Special one-day trips have helped to boost tourism in the Luxor governorate in southern Egypt during the current winter season.
The increase in numbers has helped traffic toward the Karnak and Luxor temples.
The winter season continues until April and the weather conditions have been ideal for touring between the ancient temples and tombs in east and west Luxor.
A one-day trip from Hurghada to Luxor to sample the archaeological attractions has played a major part in helping to boost tourism traffic to places such as the historical city of Thebes.
The Luxor trip from Hurghada takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays every week.
Tourists travel to Luxor to visit the temples of Karnak and Luxor in the east, and then cross the Nile to visit the ancient monuments of the west, including the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Temple of Ramesseum, the Colossi of Memnon, the city of Habu, and the Valley of the Kings.

FASTFACT

Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee in Luxor, said that the visits witnessed during the current season will eventually exceed the numbers recorded in 2019.

Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee in Luxor, said that the visits witnessed during the current season will eventually exceed the numbers recorded in 2019.
The number of worldwide visitors to Egypt is expected to reach more than 14 million this year, he added.
He said an initiative called “Follow the Sun” had been launched by the Ministry of Tourism to attract Europeans to live in Luxor, and some 175 families had already been encouraged to do so.
He added that the future will see more cultural events and conferences in Luxor, with five presentations already made to hold fashion shows in its temples.
Othman said the city was witnessing an unprecedented boom as occupancy increased during the winter season, in both fixed and floating hotels.
The increase in occupancy had been a result of Luxor attracting new visitors from markets such as Southeast Asia and China.
There has also been a 30 percent increase in visitors from the Spanish market.

 


How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations
Updated 05 February 2023

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations
  • Judiciary and politicians have accused Tarek Bitar of insubordination for resuming his inquiry after a 13-month hiatus 
  • For survivors and the families of those killed in the explosion, Judge Bitar’s fresh effort offers a glimmer of hope

DUBAI: When a massive explosion tore through the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, killing more than 215 people, Lebanese officials promised a swift investigation that would bring the culprits to justice within days.

Since then, the inquiry has repeatedly stalled, with its lead investigator Tarek Bitar accused of insubordination for resuming his probe into the blast and charging several top officials.

The blast, which devastated the port and surrounding districts, injuring more than 6,500 and displacing some 300,000, occurred when a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, improperly stored in a warehouse since 2014, somehow caught fire.

Survivors, relatives of the victims and rights groups have blamed the disaster on a political class widely viewed as corrupt and inept. To date, no official has been held accountable.

Relatives of Brirut Port blast victims clash with police outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut. (AFP)

“The stuttering investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion had already demonstrated that the judiciary was a plaything in the hands of powerful figures, who could gleefully toss spanners into the legal works to hamstring procedures indefinitely,” broadcaster and political commentator Baria Alamuddin said in a recent op-ed for Arab News.

Bitar’s investigation was initially halted in December 2021 due to a ruling from the Court of Cassation. Three former cabinet ministers had filed court orders against him, while groups opposed to the inquiry, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, accused him of bias.

Bitar was already the second judge to head the investigation following Judge Fadi Sawan’s removal. In December 2020, Sawan had charged former prime minister Hassan Diab — who had resigned in the explosion’s aftermath — and three former ministers with negligence.

 

However, Sawan was removed from the case after mounting political pressure, and the probe was suspended.

His successor, Bitar, also summoned Diab for questioning and asked parliament, without success, to lift the immunity of lawmakers who had served as ministers. The interior ministry also refused to execute arrest warrants, further undermining Bitar’s quest for accountability.

In October 2021, protests calling for Bitar’s removal were organized by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, a Shiite political party headed by Nabih Berri, in the civil war-scarred Beirut neighborhood of Tayouneh.

A supporter of Hezbollah and the Amal movements carries a portrait of Judge Tarek Bitar during a rally in Beirut on October 14, 2021, to demand his dismissal. (AFP)

The protests quickly turned deadly when unidentified snipers opened fire on the crowd, killing seven civilians and injuring dozens in echoes of the 1975-90 civil war period. The gunmen were suspected members of the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian party.

Given these tensions and hurdles, it took many by surprise when Bitar resumed his investigation on Jan. 23 after a 13-month hiatus, charging eight new suspects, including high-level security officials and Lebanon’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.

Bitar also charged former prime minister Diab, parliamentarian Ghazi Zaiter, former interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, former army commander Jean Kahwaji, and Major General Tony Saliba.

Oweidat responded by issuing a travel ban against Bitar, accusing him of “sedition” and of “acting without a mandate,” charging him with “rebelling against the judiciary.” He also issued an order releasing 17 suspects held in pretrial detention.

Lebanese protest in Beirut on January 28, 2023 to demand the removal and prosecution of top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. (AFP)

“Lebanon’s judiciary has become an object of ridicule, as judges leveled retaliatory charges against each other and arbitrarily ordered the releases of detainees,” said columnist Alamuddin.

“By filing charges against senior officials, Bitar is not an out-of-control judge. Rather he is signaling that the entire complicit, corrupt leadership deserves to be brought to account.”

The executive-judiciary squabble is a further test of Lebanon’s crumbling institutions. Wracked by financial crisis and political paralysis, its currency in free fall and thousands of professionals and young people fleeing the country, expectations are low.

Michael Young, editor of Diwan, a blog of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program, and author of “Ghosts of Martyrs Square,” is convinced that Bitar will not be permitted to do his work properly.

“We have to understand that there are two steps in this process,” he told Arab News. “If Bitar invites someone, it’s going to be very difficult if not impossible for him to force the people he wants to investigate to sit for their interviews.

“The police will not do anything about it because the interior ministry in its turn will not implement anything. The judicial police is controlled by the public prosecutor Oueidat, and he’s made it clear that he will not order the implementation of any decisions.

“The ability of Bitar to do his job properly is going to be, in my opinion, impossible. His investigation is technically blocked.”

Why Bitar chose to resume his inquiry now remains unclear. But for survivors and the families of those killed in the blast, his return offers a glimmer of hope.

“It was time for Judge Bitar to resume his work. The truth has to come out at some point and I think what Judge Ghassan Oueidat did by defying Judge Bitar is strengthening his will to uncover the truth,” Tatiana Hasrouty, who lost her father Ghassan Hasrouty in the blast, told Arab News.

Lebanese protesters demand during a rally in Beirut on Jan. 28. 2023 that top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat be discharged and held accountable for the 2020 port blast. (AFP)

“I believe in Judge Bitar, not as a person, but rather as the judge who is in charge of investigating this crime and is working on uncovering the truth and upholding the rule of law. He is challenging the culture of impunity we, the Lebanese, have inherited by summoning politicians and high officials.” 

Bitar, who was first appointed as lead investigator in February 2021, was seen by many Lebanese as an impartial and honest judge.

The 49-year-old Christian, who hails from the country’s north, rarely appears in public or speaks to the press, and is known to have a clean reputation and no political affiliations, a rarity in such a deeply sectarian country.

“Bitar is disconcerting for the corrupt ruling classes because he doesn’t follow their rules,” Alamuddin said in her Arab News op-ed. “He declines invitations to social occasions to avoid perceptions of influence, and doesn’t accept calls from those seeking favors.”

In a recent sermon, influential Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al-Rahi voiced his support for Bitar, urging him to “continue his work,” despite the “unacceptable” judicial and political pushback.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi. (AFP)

“The meetings of the judicial bodies are witnessing a lack of quorum with judges and public prosecutors defying the Higher Judicial Council and its head and refraining from attending the meetings,” he said.

“We will not allow the port crime to go without punishment, no matter how much time passes and how many rulers change.”

Al-Rahi, who is patriarch of the largest Christian community in the country, also called on Bitar to seek the help and assistance of any international authority that might aid him in uncovering the truth.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently pass a resolution to create an impartial fact-finding mission” into the port explosion.

“The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly obstructed the domestic investigation into the explosion,” they said in a joint statement.

In Lebanon’s fraught political climate, the chances of obtaining justice for the port blast’s survivors and the families of those killed appear low.

“We understood from the beginning that the political class does not want the investigation to go through to the extent that they are even willing — as we saw in the Tayouneh incident over a year ago — to risk sectarian conflict to do so,” Diwan editor Young told Arab News.

“They will not implement the rule of law. It is missing anyway in Lebanon today. They do not care about the consequences of having no rule of law.”

However, Hasrouty, who has used social media to express sorrow and anger over the loss of her father, says that regardless of what Lebanese politicians and officials do, she will not give up hope.

“The truth scares the ruling elite but this is why we will pursue it till the end,” she said. “They are scared of the power that the families and public now hold.”

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