Says CIA struck by the longevity, breadth of Iran protests

CIA head: Russia looking to support Iran, posing threat to US allies in Middle East

William Burns says start of ‘full-fledged defense partnership’ between Tehran and Moscow already has effect in Ukraine, could have ‘an even more dangerous impact on Middle East’

A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said in an interview broadcast Friday that Russia was looking to help Iran, which would pose a threat to US allies in the region.

“What’s beginning to emerge is at least the beginnings of a full-fledged defense partnership between Russia and Iran, with the Iranians supplying drones to the Russians, which are killing Ukrainian civilians as we speak today,” William Burns told PBS.

“The Russians are beginning to look at ways in which, technologically or technically, they can support the Iranians, which poses real threats to Iran’s own neighborhood, to many of our friends and partners in Iran’s neighborhood as well,” he said, without naming any of the countries.

Burns said the relationship between Tehran and Moscow was “already having an impact on the battlefield in Ukraine, again, costing the lives of a lot of innocent Ukrainians.”

“I think it can have an even more dangerous impact on the Middle East as well if it continues. So, it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” Burns said.

Iran has supplied suicide drones to Russia, which has in turn used the UAVs to hit civilian and infrastructure targets during its invasion of Ukraine. The EU has said it had evidence that Iran sold drones to Russia since the start of the invasion in February.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns speaks at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Burns’ comments came after the NBC network reported earlier this month that Russia is providing an “unprecedented level” of military and technical support to Iran, in exchange for the weapons Tehran has supplied for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

In addition to drones, Tehran is also reportedly considering supplying Russia with ballistic missiles.

“This partnership poses a threat not just to Ukraine, but to Iran’s neighbors in the region,” an unnamed senior official from the Biden administration told NBC. “We have shared this information with partners in the Middle East and around the world.”

The report said Russia may be supplying Iran with military equipment including helicopters and air defense systems, as well as training Iranian pilots on the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet. US officials said Iran “may begin receiving the aircraft within the next year.”

Officials also said Iran and Russia were looking to cooperate on the manufacture of weapons, including drones. Iran has recently ramped up its use of drones to hit targets in the Middle East, including Israeli-owned ships.

The Russian military largely controls Syria’s airspace, complicating Moscow’s relationship with Jerusalem as Israel is alleged to carry out multiple strikes on targets there as part of its efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on its doorstep.

To that end, Israel cooperates with the Russian military, and Israel’s strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria appears to be the reasoning behind Jerusalem’s decision not to supply Kyiv only with humanitarian aid rather than the requested military help.

Illustrative: Footage of Israeli strikes on Iranian and Syrian targets in southern Syria following an attempted explosive attack by Iranian-backed operatives against Israeli troops on the Golan Heights, November 18, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

There have long been concerns that Moscow could put an end to, or reduce, cooperation with Israel on Syria.

Burns also briefly discussed the ongoing protests in Iran, now entering their fourth month.

“I don’t think the Iranian regime perceives an immediate threat to its grip. It still has some very practiced habits of repression and brutality that it’s continuing to employ,” he said, noting that CIA analysts had been struck by the longevity of the protests as well as the breadth of involvement across Iranian society.

“In the long term, though, I think the reality is that this is an Iranian regime that does not have good answers for what’s on the minds of a very young population, 70 percent of which today is under the age of 30,” Burns said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: