Iran Ramps Up Drone Exports, Signaling Global Ambitions

Iran has made steady strides in designing and manufacturing military drones in recent years, and has stepped up its delivery to militant groups across the Middle East as it seeks to how to shift the force of the battlefield from Yemen to Gaza.

Those efforts have now extended far beyond the region.

Iran is now looking to build its global influence and sell increasingly sophisticated weapons-capable drones to other countries, including those already subject to many sanctions. sanctions in recent years, such as Venezuela and Sudan, according to the Iranian media, satellite imagery and defense experts inside and outside Iran.

That has provided an important source of funding and political influence for Iran, which is already isolated and struggling under US financial constraints.

Now, Russia could be a potential customer. Washington said this month that they had intelligence that Moscow was planning to buy hundreds of drones from Iran to bolster its arsenal for the war in Ukraine. US officials have urge Iran did not sell drones to Russia and warned of consequences for both countries.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its military cooperation with Russia pre-war, without providing details, and its foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica in July that the country had no plans to supply military equipment to either side of the conflict.

Last week, the commander of the Iranian military, Brig. In a speech, General Kioumars Heydari said the country was “ready to export weapons and military equipment to friendly countries”, adding that Iran’s drones were “operated” operate far and beyond our borders,” according to Iranian media.

General Heydari did not mention Russia in his speech, but his comments came the same day as President Vladimir V. Putin visited Tehran and met Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who voice support for the war in Ukraine.

“Iran is increasingly becoming a global player in drone exports,” said Seth Frantzman, a defense analyst and drone expert based in Jerusalem.

“The fact that newer drones, such as the Mohajer-6, are now being seen in places like the Horn of Africa shows that countries see them as a potential game changer, He added, referring to an advanced Iranian drone that claims to have a range of about 125 miles and the ability to carry precision-guided munitions.

“It’s been an incredible fight for cheap,” Frantzman said, adding that the Iranian drones cost less than other models on the market but are increasingly sophisticated and have proven their worth. them on battlefields throughout the Middle East.

Tehran began developing drones in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. Despite sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear and missile programs in recent years, the country has managed to produce and operate a wide range of military drones. , used for both surveillance and attack, according to experts’ analysis.

That program has become a major concern of Israel and the United States in recent years. Israeli targeted drone manufacturing and hosting sites in the escalating shadow war with Tehran. And the US Department of Defense said in a statement on July 21 that “the network of attack drone systems proliferated by Iran,” or drones, was the main topic of discussion at a recent regional security meeting in Qatar.

“Iranian drones remain largely on the margins of the global market and are mainly purchased by low-income or sanctioned countries that cannot buy them elsewhere,” Frantzman said. . Iran also faces stiff competition from powers like Turkey, whose Bayraktar TB2 drones have been acquired by countries like Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Ethiopia and adopted by Ukraine during the war. with Russia.

One United Nations embargo To prevent Iran from selling and buying expired weapons by 2020, analysts say, despite objections from the United States, which wants the extension, removes a significant legal obstacle to Iran. export drones and assert its position as a global country. unmanned aerial vehicle technology.

An early indication that Iran is taking advantage of the lifting of sanctions and boosting drone exports appeared last August.

In Ethiopia, at the outbreak of war with the Tigrayan rebels, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed toured a military airbase on the front lines, flanked by military and intelligence officials. In the background, only visible in the picture, game online spotted a mysterious winged object sitting on the runway. It was an Iranian drone – Mohajer-6 – armed with surface-to-air missiles.

Western diplomats confirm Ethiopia has received Iranian drones for The New York Times, and this was later publicly acknowledged by the US Treasury Department last October when they impose new sanctions targeting Iran’s drone program.

In February, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz speak Iran’s Mohajer-6 – a similar drone seen in Ethiopia – is also currently being sold to Venezuela. He drew attention to footage from November 2020 showing the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, standing next to a drone model during a speech in the hangar.

According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense and US officials, Venezuela has started buying kits to build a previous Iranian drone, the Mohajer-2, since 2007, the year of the UN arms embargo. United Nations applies to Iran. They are assembled by the Venezuelan state arms company CAVIM, which was sanctioned by the US in 2013 for trafficking in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act by Iran, North Korea and Syria.

In July this year, Mr. Maduro show Iranian armed combat drones built using Mohajer-2 assembly kits. In February, Israel accused Iran of supplying Venezuela with precision-guided missiles for use in drones.

Hossein Dalirian, a military analyst with close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, posted a video on his YouTube channel in January in which he said that Iran was exporting drones drove to Ethiopia and Venezuela.

“The Islamic Republic has long since reached the point of mass production of various unmanned aerial vehicles including military surveillance drones and suicide planes, and currently has a large inventory,” said Mr. Dalirian. very big,” said Mr. Dalirian. “Because drones are effective and some countries are enthusiastic about drones, in recent years, Iran has exported drones such as the New Mohajer-2 (M2). -N) and Mohajer-6 (M6) and even Ababil (AB-2). “

Iran has also supplied drones to Sudan, according to military analysts, satellite images and photo analysis of drone debris, although Khartoum is also subject to a United Nations arms embargo. In 2008, when the United Nations peacekeeping force asked about combat drones they see used in Sudansurname was told it was an Iranian version of Ababil-3.

Iran has both political and financial incentives to sell drones to such countries, as well as provide them to proxies as part of regional policy in the Middle East. The purchase allows Tehran to build international links despite Western efforts to isolate it, while providing an additional source of revenue besides oil sold under sanctions.

In May, General Mohammad Bagheri, Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Armed Forces, traveled to Tajikistan to inaugurate the Ababil-2 drone factory.

It was the first drone factory that Iran built abroad, and Iranian media widely covered the event, hailing it as an important milestone in the weapons development program. homegrown and is a sign that Iran is now a real player in the drone market.

The Tasnim news agency, part of the Revolutionary Guards, said that Iran was “increasing its strategic influence in the east” by exporting drones. The official Iranian government newspaper writes that “Iran’s successful experience in arms in the Middle East and in Ethiopia has made Iran a major regional and international arms exporter”.

Iranian drones have been deployed in numerous attacks against Israel, as well as in Saudi Arabiathe United Arab EmiratesYemen, and last October, an American base in Syria, according to intelligence officials. Countries around the world have begun to take notice.

“They’ve created this viable drone capability, so it’s not surprising,” said Farzin Nadimi, a military analyst and associate at the Washington Institute specializing in the Iranian defense industry. Other countries are interested in acquiring such technologies.

“Iranian drones should be taken seriously as a weapon,” he said.

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