• Eyal Pinko

Iranian Drones empower Hezbollah And Other Allies

In contested waters between Israel and Lebanon, the Karish offshore gas facility was targeted on July 2 by three unarmed drones produced in Iran flown by Hezbollah in Lebanon, an openly declared enemy of Israel. According to Israeli defense authorities, one of the drones was shot down by an Israeli Air Force F-16, while two additional drones were shot down by surface-to-air missiles fired from ships. According to the officials, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also shot down a second Hezbollah drone on June 29 that was over Lebanese waters but was thought to pose a threat to Israeli assets.

Benny Gantz, Israel's Minister of Defense, referred explicitly to Iran as the source of the devices, stating that Hezbollah "used UAVs built in Iran in their operation against the Karish." It should be noted that Hezbollah performs missions for Iran and that all of its weapons—whether they were produced there or not or were developed by them—are Iranian in origin.

Following the interceptions, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, warned Israel against using the Karish gas field, an underground natural gas reserve in the Eastern Mediterranean, for gas extraction before Lebanon "retains its rights" to the area. "All land and sea targets of Israel are within the range of Hezbollah missiles," Nasrallah continued, making a pointed statement.

Hezbollah's use of drones coincided with reports of progress in negotiations to settle the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon, which the United States is mediating. One possible resolution involves Lebanon giving up its claim to all of the Karish field waters in exchange for territorial concessions in other regions.

Hezbollah opposed any compromises Lebanon made on Karish via drone sorties. More generally, Hezbollah's leadership aimed to underline that the group continues to be a significant influence on national policy, supported by the vast supplies of weaponry it receives from Tehran. Moreover, Hezbollah's saber-rattling has fueled the argument in Lebanon that the group needs to be disarmed to prevent it from independently starting a conflict that would be bad for the security and economy of the entire Lebanese community.

The Iran-backed Houthis' success in using drone strikes in the Yemen conflict to gain leverage over Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have impacted Hezbollah's decision to utilize drones provided by Iran to confront Israel. Early in 2022, the Houthis carried out a number of significant drone attacks against Saudi Arabian targets and establishments close to Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

The threat posed by the Houthis, who had previously relied on Iran-supplied ballistic missiles to assault the Kingdom, evolved with the employment of drones against Saudi Arabia. However, given the distance between Yemen, the targets in the UAE, and the enormous political consequences of the attack, the drone attacks against the UAE signified an even more dramatic change.

Even if some of the drones were intercepted, the strikes, which resulted in the deaths of three people, undermined Emirati faith in their deterrence capacities. Moreover, the absence of U.S. retribution for the bombings was another reason UAE leaders publicly doubted the U.S.'s ability and willingness to defend the Emirates from similar strikes supported by Iran. Despite intense American pressure to back Ukraine in the UN Security Council, it is unclear if these worries influenced the UAE's diplomacy in Russia.

The decision by the Gulf powers to support a ceasefire in Yemen, which started on April 2, was unquestionably influenced by the Houthi drone assaults.

Drones supplied by Tehran have given Iran's friends political sway in Iraq. For example, Iran-backed militias attacked Prime Minister Mustafa al-home Kadhimi's in November 2021, one month after national elections in which pro-Iranian candidates did poorly. Iran supplied the drone that targeted the home. While several security personnel were hurt and property was damaged, the Prime Minister was unharmed. However, the blatant assault showed how determined the militia organizations and those in Tehran who supported them were to remove Kadhimi while a new administration was being formed. As of August, organizations supported by Iran seem prepared to establish a government with pro-Iranian figures at the top.

Iranian leaders point to how skillfully its allies and Iran itself have used drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to promote their technology overseas. In addition, sales of drones can help Iran generate income at a time when its economy is still heavily pressured by sanctions.

In relation to Russian President Vladimir Putin's trip to Tehran in July, U.S. officials said they were keeping an eye on the possibility that Iran might give Russia some of its most advanced combat drones as Moscow looks to restock and improve an arsenal that its conflict with Ukraine has depleted.

Journalists discovered an armed Mohajer-6 drone on an Ethiopian airbase in late 2021 as Ethiopian forces engaged rebels stationed in Tigray Province. In addition, Iran opened a plant to make sophisticated, armed drones in Tajikistan, a neighboring country that speaks Persian and is an ally of Russia, in May 2022. However, it is unclear whether the Tajikistani plant would serve as a supplier of Iranian unmanned aerial systems to Moscow.

The Mohajer-2, one of Iran's most sophisticated systems, was also delivered to Sudan and Venezuela. Venezuela has taken moves to create its own domestic UAS program and works with Tehran to lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions on both Caracas and Tehran.

Iran will likely continue to provide its closest regional allies with these systems, which have succeeded in Tehran's efforts to project power throughout the region, regardless of whether Iran-made UAS developed into a significant arms export sector.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak began, there was substantial talk of a UN Security Council resolution regarding the possibility of nonstate armed groups, particularly terrorist organizations. In addition, the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum and other international players have focused increasingly on the potential use of drones by terrorist organizations.

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