The Dangers of Iran’s Drone Diplomacy

May 19, 2023 | Alex Grinberg
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Tehran’s decision to provide its allies in Moscow with military drones, along with missiles, has called international attention to its penchant for exporting such technologies. Although these weapons are likely to have little strategic impact on the war in Ukraine, argues Alex Grinberg, they have already shown that they can cause much suffering. They can also do much damage elsewhere:

Iran has supplied drones to its loyalists across the Middle East, including Hizballah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza, and pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq. Venezuela also assembles Iranian drones, and more recently news about Iranian drone supply to the Polisario Front in Algeria has been triggering concern about stability in North Africa.

An example of “made-in-Iran” regional destabilization in the past five years includes the use of Iran-orchestrated attack drones by Yemeni Houthi rebels against the coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Houthis launched a series of attacks on March 23, 2017, crashing unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the coalition’s Patriot surface-to-air missile-defense system. Since then, they have deployed several Iran-made UAVs with explosive payloads over greater distances. On September 14, 2019, the Houthis used Iranian drones to attack oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia, better known as the Aramco attacks.

The IDF reported that Iran attempted to dispatch firearms and ammunition to Gaza with a drone. . . . Other destabilizing actors in the region who historically were recipients of Russian arms now increasingly show interest in Iranian drone supply.

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