US officials say Iran using Ukraine war to shop drone tech worldwide – report

In effort to promote support for sanctions against Tehran, US defense analysts reveal new evidence Russia using Iranian-made aircraft in Ukraine

Local residents inspect debris following a barrage of drone strikes from Russia in Stari Bezradychi village, Kyiv region, on December 19, 2022. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP)
Local residents inspect debris following a barrage of drone strikes from Russia in Stari Bezradychi village, Kyiv region, on December 19, 2022. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP)

US officials are warning that Iran is utilizing the war in Ukraine as a springboard to position itself as a hub for cheap and lethal military-grade drones.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday cited analysts at the US Defense Intelligence Agency who said they had tracked Iran’s transition from a regional drone supplier limited to the Middle East, to becoming “Moscow’s most significant military backer.”

Reports in October 2022 indicated Israel was closely monitoring Russia’s deadly launch of Iranian-made suicide drones at the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, fearing that similar weapons will be directed at the Jewish state in future wars, particularly via Hezbollah on its northern border.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system has downed drones in the past launched by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli fighter jets and combat helicopters have shot down at least four Iranian drones heading for Israel or the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years.

According to Tuesday’s report, US officials believe Tehran is rapidly improving the effectiveness of its drones through real-world use in Ukraine.

While Iranian officials have largely remained coy on their drone supply to Russia, the report said US officials shared declassified information indicating that drone attacks carried out by Iran in the Middle East were “identical in all significant features” to those launched by Russia in Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers shoot at a drone that appears in the sky seconds before it hit a building in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 17, 2022. (Vadym Sarakhan/AP)

The officials, seeking to rally international support for sanctions against Iran’s drone program, evidenced their claim by pointing to in-flight footage of the drones, as well as pieces of debris left behind by suicide and multi-function drones featuring both surveillance and weapons capabilities.

Aside from encouraging international sanctions, the officials said they wanted to “provide irrefutable evidence to a global audience where there may be more skepticism” over Iran’s involvement in the war in Ukraine.

One official told The Guardian that “while Iran has said it has sold drones to Russia, it has said explicitly that they have not been used in this conflict and that if they were, they would not ‘remain indifferent,'” referencing comments made in November by Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Demonstrating the point, an official revealed images of debris produced by a September Shahed 131 model drone attack on Kurdish targets in Northern Iraq claimed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as an apparently similar image, save for Russian-language markings on the drone’s exterior, of debris found after a Russian drone attack on Ukrainian targets in October.

Officials said the images represented “compelling evidence.”

A local resident sits outside a building destroyed by Russian, Iranian-made, drones after an airstrike on Bila Tserkva, southwest of Kyiv, on October 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Tehran is apparently “committed to resupplying” the Russian military, the officials added.

In late December, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration was cooperating with Israel to stifle Iran’s supply of drones to Russia, relying on Jerusalem’s experience in thwarting previous drone attacks.

Western officials at the time warned that Iran was preparing to provide missiles to Russia and increase its supply of drones.

The Al-Monitor news outlet last week quoted an unnamed Iranian defense official to the effect that China has joined the queue for Iranian drones.

“Our power has grown to levels where China is waiting in line to buy 15,000 of our drones,” the official boasted.

Iran maintains a foreign policy goal of developing stronger relations with countries in the global East, such as China and Russia, in an effort to balance against severe Western sanctions placed on it, due to its largely unmonitored nuclear program.

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