Destabilizing speculation

Iran passes high-tech drones to militant allies, opposition group says

Iran’s theocratic regime has stepped up its drone manufacturing operations in recent years and is now smuggling an increasingly sophisticated list of armed remote control planes to allied militant groups in the Middle East, according to intelligence gathered by a dissident group leading Iranian.

The Iranian military’s adoption of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), has given Tehran a growing advantage in asymmetric warfare in the region while US sanctions have otherwise crippled the capabilities of its air force. conventional, the National Council of Resistance of Iran said on Wednesday. .

The breakaway group gave a presentation to reporters at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, revealing what it called “new leaked information” about the scope and nature of the Iranian program, including a matrix of eight development complexes. drones.

“The Iranian regime’s UAV program is the primary weapon used for terrorism, warmongering and destabilization in the region, and it certainly provides proxies in the region with these UAVs,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the region. American branch of the NCRI.

The group has critics and supporters in various countries and is known to openly support regime change in Tehran.

“There are two elements involved in [drone] production. One is the Ministry of Defense and the other is the Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force, ”Jafarzadeh said. He circulated data obtained and compiled by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an NCRI-affiliated group with members operating inside Iran.

Mr. Jafarzadeh’s claims were not immediately verifiable and the MEK has a controversial history in Washington, but the group appears to have deep-rooted sources within the Iranian defense community. MEK members are credited with significant revelations about Iran’s covert weapons activities, including its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on Wednesday citing US, European and Israeli defense sources as saying that Tehran’s ability to rapidly develop and deploy drones is changing the equation for security in the volatile region.

Components for Iranian drones are widely available, although some models mimic those of the Israeli and US military. The Journal cited a confidential assessment produced for the UK government by C4ADS, a Washington-based think tank that claims Iran has armed its Houthi allies in Yemen with drones using a network of trading companies around the world.

A matrix of makers

Mr. Jafarzadeh’s presentation described a matrix of drone and parts makers that he says are active in Iran and are aligned or directly controlled by the Iranian military or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Among those appointed by Mr. Jafarzadeh are Ghazanfar Roknabadi Industries, Quds Air Industries, Fajr Industries Group, Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Shahid Basir Industry, Bespar Sazeh Composite Co., Paravar Pars Co. and a special operation to produce non-drones. identified in the Iranian city. by Semnan.

Paravar Pars, according to documents released by the NCRI, belongs to the aeronautical research unit of the Imam Hossein University of IRGC and “copies … and builds drones, ultralight planes and drones and also installs cameras and other equipment on drones “.

Mr. Jafarzadeh explained how the core of the drone development program relates to the “logistics direction” of the elite Iranian force Quds, a key branch of the IRGC. He said the leadership manages the shipment of finished drones and drone components to allied militant groups in Tehran in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

“This is a very interesting and very important part of the whole Quds Force operation,” Jafarzadeh said. “They actually have a smuggling office, whose job is basically to smuggle, whether it’s the finished drone product or the parts. [using] air, land and sea routes to send these weapons to their agents in those countries.

Reports of drone strikes carried out by Iranian forces or their proxies in recent months have often been vague and difficult to confirm. An attack in July targeted Israel-linked British tanker Mercer Street in the Arabian Sea.

A Pentagon investigative team announced in August that it believed the drone used in the attack was produced in Iran and was loaded with “a military grade explosive.” Details on the operator of the drone have never been clarified.

At the end of August, at least eight people were injured in a drone strike carried out by Yemen-based Houthi militants against Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces have received considerable support from Tehran in the bloody civil war in Yemen.

Similar strikes have proved frustrating for US forces based in neighboring Iraq, where drone attacks by Shiite militias with close ties to Iran added another layer of complexity.

After a drone strike in early September near US forces stationed at Irbil International Airport in northern Iraq, Reuters reported that witnesses heard at least six explosions. This suggests that the aircraft used in the attack may have been carrying several miniature missiles.

The news agency noted that the airport in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, had been the subject of attacks several times in the year preceding the incident, including by drones carrying explosives.

Iran denies any involvement in the attacks in Iraq, but US officials blamed the strikes on Iran-aligned militias who have vowed to fight until about 2,500 US military forces leave the country. US troops are in Iraq to support Iraqi military operations against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Sanctions battle

Iranian drone activity has come to light amid speculation that the Biden administration may prepare to ease sanctions on Iran as part of an effort to lure the regime into diplomatic talks to restore aspects of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

Jafarzadeh said the United States should push to increase sanctions, not relax them. He said the sanctions are “an important tool to limit the resources of the Iranian regime by making them pay a price.”

“If the regime is allowed to make such a vast [drone] operation… without any consequences, they are only encouraged, ”he said. “If they constantly hear that ‘We are open to negotiations, let’s sit down and talk’ and hear that over and over instead of being penalized and feeling the consequences of the terror, chaos and destruction they have created in the region, it is certainly not useful. “

Others have argued that the sanctions may have little impact on an Iranian drone program that relies less on purchasing sophisticated military equipment and more on establishing networks to acquire consumer drone equipment, and then militarize them in clandestine installations.

“The sanctions might not be able to affect the Iranian program in a way that improves the security of local populations or American citizens or military personnel working and living in the Middle East,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, former senior head of the National Security Council focused on the Middle East. .

Ms Fontenrose, who now heads Scowcroft’s Middle East Security Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs, noted in an analysis released by Defense One that an attack in June on a US State Department in Baghdad was conducted by a drone “cheaply built with off-the-shelf components including a Japanese-made motor and an inexpensive Global Navigation Satellite System antenna with a built-in compass.

“Other parts,” she wrote, “are from black market scavengers of drone test and attack debris, who would not be affected by the sanctions.”

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