Iranian UAVs downed over Iraq in February were heading for Israel, officials say

Incident came days before Israel allegedly struck IRGC drone warehouse in Kermanshah, whereupon Iran launched missiles at Iraq’s Erbil

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

An Iranian Shahed-136 drone is launched during a military exercise in Iran, December 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)
An Iranian Shahed-136 drone is launched during a military exercise in Iran, December 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Two drones that were reportedly launched from Iran and intercepted by the US-led international coalition in Iraq last month are believed to have been aiming for Israel, officials said Monday.

The incident came days before Israel allegedly launched a strike on a drone warehouse at an airbase in western Iran, prompting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to launch a dozen ballistic missiles at what it claimed without evidence was an Israeli “strategic center” in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil.

On February 12, “multiple low-flying drones, flying westward, originating from Iraq’s eastern border region” were downed, a coalition official told the BBC.

Images of one of the drones published online showed a design similar to Iran’s Shahed-136 model.

“The drone is now in custody and is being analyzed by Coalition forces,” the official said, adding that the drone model was one that had been previously used by “malign actors” against targets in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Israeli officials on Monday confirmed a February 16 report by the Kan public broadcaster that said Israel believed the drones were heading for the country.

Days after the attempted drone attack, on February 14, Israel reportedly launched six drones from Iraqi Kurdistan at the IRGC base in Kermanshah, decimating a fleet of drones.

That strike, and the deaths of two IRGC commanders in an alleged Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital Damascus a week earlier, was apparently behind Iran’s decision to launch ballistic missiles at Iraq.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iranian drones are a significant threat to the region — especially as Tehran arms proxies stationed along Israel’s borders.

Military officials said earlier this month that Iran’s “UAV terror” is a new and global issue, accusing Tehran of directly attacking both military and civilian targets in the Middle East.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed it intercepted at least four Iranian drones heading for Israel or the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years.

The IDF believes Iran is attempting to arm all of its proxies in the region — in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen — with hundreds and even thousands of UAVs, in addition to providing military training.

In this satellite image taken February 18, 2022, damage is seen to a site belonging to the IRGC in the Iranian province of Kermanshah. (Planet Labs PBC via Aurora Intel)

The series of incidents over the past few months indicate an escalation in the shadow conflict between Israel and Iran.

Meanwhile, an anonymous Telegram channel ostensibly tied to Iran released documents over the past week that belong to Mossad chief David Barnea.

A cyberattack last week took down Israeli government websites for over an hour on Monday evening. Israeli officials did not immediately say who was behind the attack, but some media reports were quick to point the finger at Iran.

That cyberattack came as Iranian state television reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had arrested members of a “network” working for Israel that planned to sabotage Iran’s major underground nuclear facility at Fordo.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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