The Iran-Israel Drone Competition and the Changing Nature of War in the Middle East


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, have been widely used in recent armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. Their low cost and effectiveness spurred the machines’ popularity in combat and as surveillance tools. Many countries in the region, including Israel, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are aggressively using and marketing drones. Drones are a weapon used by poor countries and organizations that do not have access to advanced fighter jets. They are also used by wealthy countries, which see them as a valuable alternative to sophisticated but expensive manned fighter jets.

Although Turkey is make waves with its Bayraktar drone, the real regional drone rivalry is currently between Iran and Israel. While Iran tries to compensate for its isolation from military suppliers and high-tech weapons by developing drones and supplying them to its proxies in the Middle East, Israel has a very advanced repertoire of drones that are marketed in the worldwide and in some Arab countries. . This competition is slowly but surely changing the nature of the war and thus altering the geopolitical map of the region.

While Iran tries to compensate for its isolation from military suppliers and high-tech weapons by developing drones and supplying them to its proxies in the Middle East, Israel has a very advanced repertoire of drones marketed around the world. .

Groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq often congregate and upgrade drone kits smuggled or otherwise sent from Iran. Reports indicate that Israel destroyed an Iranian drone assembly plant in Syria last July that was used to distribute the drones to allies in the region. Non-state actors such as the Houthis and Hezbollah also use drones armed with missiles, including guided missiles, against targets such as Israel, US bases or tankers in and around the Middle East, and countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Between 2015 and 2021, the Houthis fired 430 ballistic missiles and launched 851 armed drones into Saudi Arabia, killing 59 Saudi civilians, according to the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, who also said Iran and Hezbollah provided the drones.

Israel versus Iran and its proxies

The popularity of drones as a weapon has skyrocketed among poor countries and non-state actors. Several factors explain their popularity. First, they are inexpensive. Non-state actors, from genuine liberation movements to terrorist organizations, have neither the necessary funding nor the operational capacity to purchase fighter jets. Second, many drones are capable of evading radar. Due to their generally small size and ability to fly at low altitudes, drones can fly under most countries’ radar systems, even when their targets have highly advanced air and missile defenses. Finally, drones are good for intelligence gathering as they can act as cheap and almost undetectable spies in the skies for countries or armed movements that do not have a powerful air force or the ability to place human intelligence agents. in enemy territory.

After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Israel began developing drones to gather real-time intelligence on its enemies. As a result, Israel has had operational drones for decades and shows no signs of slowing the pace of development. In 2019, around 50 local Israeli start-ups were working on drone prototypes, the country’s drone industry worth billions. And according to a study by a specialized firm, Israel was the world’s leading exporter of drones between 2005 and 2013.

Iran’s proxies have used drones for military purposes ranging from surveillance and reconnaissance to carrying bombs and guided missiles. They also focused on improving their drone technology and expanding its uses.

Iran’s main proxies in the Middle East and the Gulf are the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian Assad regime, various militias in Iraq, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Each of these Iranian proxies has used drones for military purposes ranging from surveillance and reconnaissance to carrying bombs and guided missiles. Iran and its proxies have been forced to resort to the use of drones because, with the exception of Syria, none of them can buy fighter jets. So they turned to improving drone technology and expanding its uses.

To Israeli officials, Iranian drones represent a real danger. The threat they pose was demonstrated in July 2022 when the Israeli military declared that it beaten down three drones used by Hezbollah in an attempted attack on an Israeli gas exploration platform in disputed maritime waters with Lebanon. Iran and its proxies had also threatened shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Before armed drones were invented, they had repeatedly attacked oil tankers and merchant ships with navy and coastguard vessels, which were its main combat tools in the 1980s, before the invention of armed drones. Iran’s drone industry is also expanding to other countries. In May 2022, Iran open a drone factory in Tajikistan that produces the Ababil-2 drone, capable of both reconnaissance and combat.

In September 2022, the Iranian Navy grasped two American naval drones, which the United States persuaded to return to them after a show of force. The incident stoked US fears over the growing arming of Iran and its proxies with aerial and naval drones, in addition to their proven use of ballistic missiles.

Iran has also provided its proxies with the tools to build their own drone factories. Drones made by Hamas, Hezbollah and possibly the Houthis are usually copies of Iranian drones, but given new names to steer Iran away from their actions. Hamas has engaged Israel with its drones for the past few years, and some Hamas drones have even managed to enter Israel and return safely to Gaza.

Hamas and Hezbollah would have been develop and operate drones targeting Israel since at least 2004. Hamas and Hezbollah drone technology originated in Iran, which has maintained an active military drone program since the Iran-Iraq war. And reports also indicate that Iran has significantly increased the military capabilities of its drones in recent years, and has been export drones to countries in Africa and Central America.

A constant escalation

Iran has decided to research, develop and operate drones to counter Israel’s superior aerial military capabilities and to aid its proxies in the Middle East. Worried about Iran’s advances in drone technology, February 2022 Israel chose to attack Iranian factories involved in manufacturing and deploying drones. The attack represented an escalation of covert and indirect campaigns by the two countries, which have been carried out for years.

In May 2022, however, Iranian television broadcast footage of a drone base beneath Iran’s Zagros mountain range that reportedly contained “over 100 combat, reconnaissance and attack drones”. Iran is also starting to supply Russia with drones. In July 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran is to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss coordination strategies in Syria. Iran wanted Russia to assert its military air superiority over Syria by refusing to allow Israel the freedom to attack Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah targets on Syrian soil. Putin’s visit was also aimed at ensuring that Iran provided Russia with as many armed drones as possible, since Putin and his generals realized they were behind in developing and manufacturing a valuable field weapon and inexpensive.

Israel has taken an aggressive stance toward Iran and its proxies’ drone warfare. In August 2019, for example, Israel offensive targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq linked to Iran.

Israel has taken an aggressive stance toward Iran and its proxies’ drone warfare. In August 2019, for example, Israel offensive targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq linked to Iran. During the attack on Syria, two members of Hezbollah were killed. Israel spear two additional attacks on Syria in the same week, allegedly targeting the Al-Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Israel said was preparing to use drones to attack Israeli civilian targets and infrastructure.

And in the attack on Iraq, an Israeli drone hit a Shiite militia convoy, killing nine people, including a senior commander, in what was the third Israeli attack using armed drones in Iraq since the fall of the country. July 2019 strike on an Iranian arms depot, which marked the first Israeli assault on Iraqi territory since 1981. The drone attacks on Beirut, which caused minimal damage, were tagged a “declaration of war” by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has promised to retaliate.

In Gaza, Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system made it difficult for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to inflict substantial damage on Israel with rockets and missiles. Hamas therefore decided to rely on drones instead, and Iran then began supplying the two groups with drones equipped with weapons and intelligence gathering. There have reportedly been a significant number of drone infiltrations into Israel from Gaza, leading it to target drone warehouses and suspected production sites in Gaza. On the other hand, Hamas has acquired small, commercially available Chinese-made drones that it uses for surveillance purposes. One of these drones, a quadcopter, was shot by Israel on its border with Gaza on October 11,

Changing the face of conflict

The drone war between Israel and Iran and its proxies has raged for at least two decades now and illustrates how strategic warfare has evolved alongside the development of drone technology, especially as it is now used by the poor countries and non-state actors. . Iran is using drones to make up for its relative lack of military aircraft while Israel continues to use drones to bolster its already impressive aerial military capabilities.

The era of modern warfare drones has well and truly arrived. The effectiveness and popularity of drones in the Middle East has sent a clear signal to military strategists and weapons producers that inexpensive drones can take on armies and wreak havoc on unsuspecting targets miles away. The already widespread use of this technology is becoming more apparent by the day, a trend that is likely to alter the nature of warfare for years to come.

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