During the past year of fighting, both Moscow and Kyiv have made extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), often deploying them in new ways that amount to significant changes in the nature of warfare. Russia has recently begun importing Iranian drones—including loitering munitions or “suicide drones”—which the Islamic Republic also supplies to its proxy armies around the Middle East. Liran Antebi and Amikam Norkin explain the implications for the IDF:
For Israel, this is a unique opportunity: with Iran considered its greatest threat, Tehran’s involvement in a conflict in Europe allows an in-depth examination of one aspect of Iranian capabilities and weaknesses. [The suicide drones] are relatively primitive, . . . low cost, and simple to operate; some were even downgraded [in order] to allow their export from Iran disassembled, with assembly on the ground. Despite the low level of accuracy of these UAVs in comparison to their Western counterparts, for the Russians they are an adequate solution to their need to erode Ukraine’s resilience by damaging electrical and water infrastructure, as well as inflicting intentional injury and death on civilians.
From Israel’s perspective, Ukraine offers a demonstration of the limited technological capabilities of exported Iranian weapons on the one hand, and implications for the battlefield on the other, including the ability to damage civilian infrastructure, military forces, and civilians.
The fighting in Ukraine also shows how non-Western powers tend to use unmanned weapons—in a total inversion of how Western democracies use similar technologies, largely with the intention of minimizing damage and harm to civilians by means of improving the accuracy of their systems. The way that Russia uses these technologies does not respect international law in particular or human life in general, as proven by the deadly and indiscriminate attacks on the Ukrainian home front. While the weapons have not scored strategic gains, the future of hundreds of such UAVs in combination with heavy barrages of rockets in the early days of fighting are liable to pose difficult problems for the Israeli defense systems.