How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

Special How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
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Iranian-made Karrar drones are displayed next to a banner reading in Persian "Death to Israel" during an inauguration ceremony in Tehran. (Iranian Army office photo handout/AFP)
Special How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
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Iranian army officials inspecting Iranian homemade Karrar drones displayed during an inauguration ceremony in Tehran in December 2023. (Iran Army handout/AFP)
Special How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
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Iran Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani (2nd-R) and military chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi (R) taking part in the unveiling ceremony of UAVs at an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iran Army handout/AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2024
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How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
  • Country has come a long way since first building surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War
  • Attack on Israel showed UAVs deployed en masse are vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems

LONDON: In July 2018, a senior Iranian official made an announcement that raised eyebrows around the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic, said Manouchehr Manteqi, head of the Headquarters for Development of Knowledge-Based Aviation and Aeronautics Technology and Industry, was now capable of producing drones self-sufficiently, without reliance on foreign suppliers or outside technical know-how.

International sanctions restricting imports of vital technology had effectively crippled Iran’s ability to develop sophisticated conventional military aircraft.




Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (C) and Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani (R) attend an unveiling ceremony of the new drone "Mohajer 10" in Tehran on August 22, 2023. (Iranian Presidency photo handout/AFP)

But now, said Manteqi, “designing and building drone parts for special needs (is) done by Iranian knowledge-based companies.”

In developing its own drone technology, Iran had found a way to build up its military capabilities regardless of sanctions.

Iran had already come a long way in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, having first embarked on the creation of surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War.

Speaking in September 2016, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, credited the tactical demands of the eight-year conflict as having been “pivotal in the production of modern science and technology for future use.”




This handout picture provided by the Iranian Army on May 28, 2022, shows Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi (R), Iran commander-in-chief, and Major General Mohammad Bagheri, armed forces chief of staff, visiting an underground drone base in an unknown location in Iran. (Handout via AFP)

This, he said, had led to the development of “Iranian-manufactured long-range drones (that) can target terrorists’ positions from a great distance and with a surface of one meter square.”

Iran’s first UAV was the Ababil, a low-tech surveillance drone built in the 1980s by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Co. It first flew in 1985 and was quickly joined by the Mohajer, developed by the Quds Aviation Industry Co.

Although initially both of these drones were fairly primitive, over the years both platforms have been steadily developed and have become far more sophisticated.

According to a report in state newspaper Tehran Times, the current Ababil-5, unveiled on Iran Army Day in April 2022, has a range of about 480 km and can carry up to six smart bombs or missiles.

But the Mohajer 10, launched last year on Aug. 22, appears to be an even more capable, hi-tech UAV, closely resembling America’s MQ-9 Reaper in both looks and capabilities.




Iranian drone "Mohajer 10" is displayed Iran's defense industry achievements exhibition on August 23, 2023 in Tehran. (AFP)

Armed with several missiles and able to remain aloft for 24 hours at an altitude of up to 7 km, it has a claimed range of 2,000 km. If true, this means it is capable of hitting targets almost anywhere in any country in the Middle East.

This appeared to be confirmed in July 2022, when Javad Karimi Qodousi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told Iran’s state news agency IRNA that “Iran’s strategy in building drones is to maintain the security of the country's surrounding environment up to a depth of 2,000 kilometers.”

He added: “According to the declared policy of the Leader of the Revolution, any person, group or country who stands up against the Zionist regime, the Islamic Republic will support him with all its might, and the Islamic Republic can provide them with knowledge in the field of drones.”

By 2021, following a rash of attacks in the region, it was clear that Iranian drone technology was in the hands of non-state actors and militias throughout the Middle East.




An Iran-made drone carries a flag of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement above Aaramta bordering Israel on May 21, 2023. Hezbollah simulated cross-border raids into Israel in a show of its military might, using live ammunition and an attack drone. (AFP/File)

Speaking during a visit to Iraq in May 2021, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said the Iranian drone program “has innovated with sophisticated, indigenously produced drones, which it supplies to regional allies.”

This “broad diffusion of Iranian drone technologies makes it almost impossible to tell who conducted a lethal drone strike in the region, and thus who should be held responsible and accountable.”

This, he added, “is only going to get more difficult.”

As it has raced to supply proxies and allies throughout the region and the wider world with these weapons, Iran has developed a second, cheaper class of UAV — the so-called “loitering munition,” or suicide drone.

Variations of these weapons, relatively cheap to produce but capable of carrying a significant explosive payload over hundreds of kilometers, have been produced in large numbers by the IRGC-linked Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center.

In September 2019, the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attack by 25 drones and other missiles on Saudi Aramco oil sites at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Afterward, the Kingdom’s Defense Ministry displayed wreckage that revealed delta-winged Shahed 136 drones were among the weapons that had been fired at the Kingdom.

The Houthis have claimed responsibility for other attacks by Iranian-made drones. In 2020, another Saudi oil facility was hit, at Jazan near the Yemen border; the following year, four drones targeted a civilian airport at Abha in southern Saudi Arabia, setting an aircraft on fire; and in January 2022 drones struck two targets in Abu Dhabi — at the international airport and an oil storage facility, where three workers were killed.




A picture taken on June 19, 2018 in Abu Dhabi shows the wreckage of a drone used by Yemen's Houthi militia in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The coalition was assembled in 2014 to help restore the UN-recognized Yemeni government that was ousted by the Iran-backed Houthis. (AFP)

In addition to supplying non-state actors with its drones, Iran is also developing a lucrative export market for the technology.

In November 2022, analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded that Iran “may be outsourcing kamikaze drone production to Venezuela,” a country sanctioned by the US in part because of its ties with Tehran, and in July 2023, Forbes reported that Bolivia had also expressed interest in acquiring Iranian drone technology.

Iran is not alone in developing markets for such weapons in South America. In December 2022, military intelligence and analysis organization Janes reported that Argentina had signed a contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to buy man-portable anti-personnel and anti-tank loitering munitions, produced by Israeli arms company Uvision.

Only four days ago, it was reported that Iranian-made armed drones have been used by the Sudanese army to turn the tide of conflict in the country’s civil war and halt the progress of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.




TV grab showing a UAV made in Venezuel, with help from Iran, China and Russia in 2012. Iran is thought to be outsourcing UAV production to Venezuela. (VTA handout via AFP)

According to Reuters, Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Sadeq denied his country had obtained any weapons from Iran. But the news agency cited “six Iranian sources, regional officials and diplomats,” who confirmed that Sudan’s military “had acquired Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the past few months.”

Iran’s interest in Sudan is strategic, according to an unnamed Western diplomat quoted by Reuters: “They now have a staging post on the Red Sea and on the African side.”

But Iran’s most significant state customer for its deadly drone technology to date is Russia.

In September 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expelled Iranian diplomats from the country after several downed drones were found to have been made in Iran.

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people and are being used against civilian infrastructure and peaceful civilians,” Zelensky told Arab News at the time.




A local resident sits outside a building destroyed by Iranian-made drones after a Russian airstrike on Bila Tserkva, southwest of Kyiv, on October 5, 2022. (AFP/File)

Since then, drone use on both sides in the conflict has escalated, with Russia procuring many of its weapons and surveillance systems from Iran, in violation of UN resolutions.

At a meeting in New York on Friday the UK’s deputy political coordinator told the UN Security Council that “Russia has procured thousands of Iranian Shahed drones and has used them in a campaign against Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, which is intended to beat Ukraine into submission by depriving its civilians of power and heat.”

But although Iran has successfully exported its drones, and drone technology, to several countries and non-state actors, its own use of the weapons has not been particularly auspicious.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

As initially developed, drones were intended first for surveillance, and then as armed platforms for tactical use against single targets.

It is not known what Iran hoped to achieve by unleashing a swarm of 170 drones at once against Israel on Saturday night, in its first openly direct attack against the country. But all the reportedly failed attack has done is demonstrate that slow-moving drones deployed en masse in a full-frontal assault are extremely vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.




This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky as Israeli air defenses intercept an Iranian drone. (AFPTV/AFP)

The vast majority of the drones, and the 30 cruise and 120 ballistic missiles fired at Israel in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1, were shot down, either intercepted by American warships and aircraft or downed by Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile systems.


Drone warfare through the years

The word “drone” used to describe an unmanned aerial vehicle was first coined during the Second World War, when the British converted a Tiger Moth biplane to operate as an unmanned, radio-controlled target for anti-aircraft gunnery training. Codenamed Queen Bee, between 1933 and 1943, hundreds were built. Purpose-built drones as we know them today first took to the skies over Vietnam in the 1960s in the shape of the Ryan Aeronautical Model 147 Lightning Bug. Radio-controlled, the jet-powered aircraft was launched from under-wing pylons fitted to converted C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. After its reconnaissance mission was over, the Lightning Bug parachuted itself back to Earth, where it could be recovered by a helicopter. It was Israel that developed what is considered to be the world’s first modern military surveillance drone, the propellor-driven Mastiff, which first flew in 1973. Made by Tadiran Electronic Industries, it could be launched from a runway and remain airborne for up to seven hours, feeding back live video.

• • • • • •

The Mastiff was acquired by the US military, which led to a collaboration between AAI, a US aerospace company, and the government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries. The result was the more sophisticated AAI RQ-2 Pioneer, a reconnaissance drone used extensively during the 1991 Gulf War. The breakthrough in drones as battlefield weapons was made thanks to Abraham Karem, a former designer for the Israeli Air Force who emigrated to the US in the late 1970s. His GNAT 750 drone was acquired by General Atomics and operated extensively by the CIA over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 and 1994. This evolved into the satellite-linked RQ-1 Predator. First used to laser-designate targets and guide weapons fired by other aircraft, by 2000 it had been equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and the first was fired in anger less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

• • • • • •

The first strike, against a convoy carrying a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, missed. But on Nov. 14, 2001, a Predator that had taken off from a US air base in Uzbekistan fired two Hellfire missiles into a building near Kabul, killing Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, and several other senior Al-Qaeda personnel. Since then, silent death from the air has become the signature of American military power, thanks to a remotely operated weapons system from which no one is safe, no matter where they are. This was made clear by the audacious attack on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a drone strike as he left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3, 2020. The MQ-9 Reaper drone that killed him had been launched from a military base in the Middle East and was controlled by operators at a US airbase over 12,000 km away in Nevada. — Jonathan Gornall
 

 


UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
Updated 14 sec ago
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UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause

UN says lawlessness in Gaza impedes aid via Kerem Shalom despite Israel’s military pause
  • The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations said on Tuesday it has been unable to distribute aid in the Gaza Strip from the Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing because of lawlessness and panic among hungry people in the area, despite Israel’s daytime pause in military activity.
Israel’s military said on Sunday there would be a daily pause in its attacks from 0500 GMT until 1600 GMT until further notice along the road that leads from Israel via the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din Road and northwards in Gaza.
The UN welcomed the move, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday, but added that “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need.” He said the area between Kerem Shalom and the Salah Al-Din road was very dangerous.
“Fighting is not the only reason for being unable to pick up aid ... The lack of any police or rule of law in the area makes it very dangerous to move goods there,” he said.
“But we are ready to engage with all parties to ensure that aid reaches people in Gaza, and we’ll continue to work with the authorities and with security forces, trying to see what can be done to have security conditions,” Haq said.
“When aid gets to a place, people are starving, and they’re worried that this may be the last food that they see,” he said. “They have to be assured that there’s going to be a regular flow of goods so that there’s not a panic when we get to the area.”
The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza, where the UN had warned a famine is looming.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago, aid for 2.3 million Palestinians has primarily entered through two crossings into southern Gaza — the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel.
But deliveries were disrupted when Israel stepped up its military operations in Rafah last month with the stated aim of routing remaining units of Hamas fighters. Egypt closed the Rafah crossing due to the threat posed to humanitarian work and has routed a backlog of aid and fuel via Kerem Shalom.
Haq said on Tuesday that the Rafah crossing remained closed and there was limited access via Kerem Shalom. In Gaza’s north, he said the Erez crossing was not accessible due to an escalation of fighting, while the West Erez and Zikim crossings were operational.


Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
Updated 18 June 2024
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Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew

Ship manager calls on Houthis to free Galaxy Leader crew
  • Galaxy Leader management: ‘There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members’
  • Houthis hold captive the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania

Managers of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship on Tuesday renewed calls for the release of the vessel’s 25 crew being held by Yemen’s Houthi militants for seven months.
The militants used helicopters to attack the Bahamas-flagged ship on Nov. 19. They captured the Bulgarian ship master and chief officer, along with 17 Filipinos and other sailors from Ukraine, Mexico and Romania, the ship managers said.
“There is nothing to be gained by the Houthis in keeping the 25 crew members,” said the ship managers, who requested that they be released to their families without further delay.
The Houthis have used drones and missiles to assault ships in the Red Sea, the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war. Since then, they have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents ship owners, has called the Houthi attacks “unacceptable acts of aggression which threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping.”
Last week, Houthis notched up direct strikes on two ships — the Liberan-flagged Tutor coal carrier and Palau-flagged Verbena, which was loaded with wood construction material.
Those assaults prompted security experts to note a significant increase in the effectiveness of the Iran-aligned militants’ drone and missile attacks.
Rescuers evacuated crews from the damaged ships due to safety risks. One sailor from the Tutor remains missing. Both ships are now adrift and vulnerable to further attack or sinking.
US and British forces on Monday conducted airstrikes targeting Yemen’s Hodeidah International Airport and Kamaran Island near the port of Salif off the Red Sea.


Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’

Israel army says operational plans for Lebanon offensive ‘approved’
  • “As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said
  • "Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field"

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Tuesday operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were "approved and validated", as Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement engaged in cross-border exchanges of fire.
Senior Israeli military officials "held a joint situational assessment in the Northern Command. As part of the situational assessment, operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated," the military said in a statement.
"Decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field."
Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, and Israel have been trading near-daily fire since the Gaza war was trigged by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack on southern Israel.
The sign-off came as Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier warned Hezbollah that it would be destroyed in the event of a "total war" between the two.
"We are very close to the moment when we will decide to change the rules of the game against Hezbollah and Lebanon. In a total war, Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be hit hard," Katz said, according to a statement from his office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month that the military was ready for an intense operation in Lebanon if necessary, pledging to restore security to the country's northern border.
US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon on Tuesday a day after meeting Israeli leaders, seeking "urgent" de-escalation on the Israel-Lebanon border.


Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
Updated 18 June 2024
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Iran slaps one-year prison term on Nobel winner Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi. (Supplied)
  • Mohammadi refused to attend a trial session in Tehran earlier this month, and in March shared an audio message from prison in which she decried a ‘full-scale war against women’ in Iran

TEHRAN: An Iranian court has sentenced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi to a year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” the jailed activist’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mohammadi, 52, has been jailed since November 2021 over several past convictions relating to her advocacy against the obligatory hijab for women and capital punishment in Iran.
Lawyer Mostafa Nili said on X that “Mohammadi was sentenced to one year in prison for propaganda against the system.”
Nili said “the reasons for issuing this sentence” include calls to boycott parliamentary elections, letters to Swedish and Norwegian lawmakers and “comments about Mrs.Dina Ghalibaf.”
Rights groups have said that Ghalibaf, a journalist and student, had been taken into custody after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. Ghalibaf has since been released.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online website said on April 22 that Ghalibaf “had not been raped” and that she was being prosecuted for making a “false statement.”
Iranian police  have intensified enforcement of the country’s dress code for women.

 


Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
Updated 18 June 2024
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Gaza conflict has caused major environmental damage: UN

Palestinian residents search the rubble of a family home destroyed in Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (AFP
  • Latest assessment adds to concerns about humanitarian crisis and environmental costs of war

GENEVA: The conflict in Gaza has created unprecedented soil, water, and air pollution in the region, destroying sanitation systems and leaving tonnes of debris from explosive devices, a UN report on the environmental impact of the war said on Tuesday.

The war between Israel and Hamas has swiftly reversed limited progress in improving the region’s water desalination and wastewater treatment facilities, restoring the Wadi Gaza coastal wetland, and investments in solar power installations, according to a preliminary assessment from the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP.
Explosive weapons have generated some 39 million tonnes of debris, the report said.

FASTFACT

UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.

Each square meter of the Gaza Strip is now littered with more than 107 kg of debris. The report said that is more than five times the debris generated during the battle for Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.
“All of this is deeply harming people’s health, food security, and Gaza’s resilience,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Gaza’s environment was already suffering from recurring conflicts, rapid urban growth, and high population density before the most recent conflict began on Oct. 7. The UN assessment adds to concerns about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the environmental costs of war, with Ukraine also recording widespread ecological damage over the past two years.
“Understanding the environmental impacts of war is a grand challenge of our time,” said Eoghan Darbyshire, a senior researcher at the UK-based nonprofit Conflict and Environment Observatory.
“The impacts will not only be felt locally where the fighting is taking place but may be displaced or even felt at the global scale via greenhouse gas emissions.”
The UN assessment stems from a December 2023 request from the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority for UNEP to take stock of environmental damages. UNEP is mandated to assist countries with pollution mitigation and control in areas affected by armed conflict or terrorism.
Due to security concerns and access restrictions, the UN used remote sensing surveys, data from Palestinian technical entities, and damage assessments from the World Bank in their report.
Ground measurements, however, would be critical to understanding the extent of soil and water pollution, Darbyshire said.
The report found that the water, sanitation, and hygiene systems are almost entirely defunct, with Gaza’s five wastewater treatment plants shut down. Israel’s long-term occupation had already posed major environmental challenges in the Palestinian territories about water quality and availability, according to a 2020 report by the UN Development Program.
Over 92 percent of water in the Gaza Strip was then deemed unfit for human consumption.
The Gaza Strip had one of the highest densities of rooftop solar panels in the world, with the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating 2023 some 12,400 rooftop solar systems.
But Israel has since destroyed a large proportion of Gaza’s burgeoning solar infrastructure, and broken panels can leak lead and heavy metal contaminants into the soil.
Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed.
Looking at the scale of environmental destruction, “it is my opinion that large areas of Gaza will not be recovered to a safe state within a generation, even with limitless finance and will,” said Darbyshire.