Syrian Regime Forces Increase UAV Use Along Jordanian Border

An Ababil-3 UAV at an Iranian arms expo on Kish Island in November 2016.


“Iran has transferred many dual-use drones, with surveillance and bombing capabilities, to Daraa Governorate.”


Reported unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use by Syrian regime forces and their allies along the border with Jordan has noticeably increased. Jordanian authorities claimed that they had intercepted at least five small drones smuggling weapons and/or illicit substances from Syria between June and mid-August 2023.[i] Two reports from Syrian opposition sources provide context to the recent uptick in UAV use by Syrian regime forces and their allies. The first accompanying excerpt, published by the Horan Free Gathering, an opposition group in southern Syria, stated that UAVs have been used to smuggle drugs since at least 2018, when the conflict was frozen in southern Syria. Recent clampdowns along the land border have prompted smugglers to rely more heavily on UAVs. The article claims that Iran has transferred several combat UAVs to Syrian forces in Daraa, making them “the regime’s new weapon in the province.” The second accompanying report, from the Syrian opposition media channel Syria TV, provides details on two recent Syrian regime UAV strikes against rebel leaders in Daraa Province. Per the report, both attacks were conducted at night using Iranian Ababil drones, and neither attack appears to have succeeded against its primary target, only causing damage to buildings. The reports note that the Ababil UAVs fly quietly at low altitudes and rely on human-planted targeting devices. While Iranian-backed regime forces have employed UAVs throughout the conflict, the uptick in their use in southern Syria is notable and likely to cause concern in neighboring Jordan and Israel.


Sources:

“بين تهريب المخدرات والعمليات الأمنية.. الطائرات المسيرة وسيلة النظام الجديدة

(From Drug Smuggling to Security Operations… UAVs are the Regime’s New Method),” 19 July 2023, Horan Free Gathering (southern Syria opposition group), https://www.horanfree.com/archives/13821

The regime’s use of small drones to smuggle drugs is not new. Since the settlement process in southern Syria at the end of July 2018, it began to use to smuggle drugs to Jordan, mainly high-value cocaine and “crystal,” in addition to smuggling some light weapons and ammunition…

A source for the Free Horan Gathering confirmed that Iran has transferred many dual-use drones, with surveillance and bombing capabilities, to Daraa Governorate, and has trained officers and members of the Syrian regime forces on using them, making it the regime’s new weapon in the province.


“الطائرات المسيّرة في درعا.. تكتيك عسكري جديد يوسع نفوذ إيران في سوريا

(UAVs in Daraa… New Military Tactic Expands Iranian Influence in Daraa),” Syria TV (Syrian opposition media network), 4 August 2023. https://tinyurl.com/sxssrr6v

From the beginning of last July until the second of August, 6 sorties were recorded by Ababil drones, west of Daraa, all of them flying after dark, according to what an informed source told Syria TV. On August 1, a drone targeted the house of the young man, Amjad Al-Mizal, in the town of Al-Yadoudah, west of Daraa, without recording any casualties. Abu Malik al-Zoubi, 35 years old, from the city of Tafas, west of Daraa, who witnessed the bombing of a house in the city on the 24th of last July, told Syria TV that an Ababil-2 drone targeted the house of journalist Muhannad al-Zoubi after midnight with a shell containing high explosives, causing substantial damage to the house…He added that these planes do not make a sound while flying in the area, and sometimes they do not emit light, and they fly at low altitudes to accurately hit their target…
A leading source in the opposition factions told Syria TV that officers from the Fourth Division recently supervised training operations for regime members on the use of drones at the headquarters of the Fifth Division in the city of Izraa in rural Daraa. The training included dozens of members of the regime’s army and its security services and aimed to improve their drone-handling capabilities, according to the commander. He added that the training focused on Iranian-made Ababil 2 and Ababil 3 drones, including those made locally, in addition to Quadcopters used by local militias to smuggle expensive crystal meth and cocaine to the Kingdom of Jordan and Arab countries.


Notes:

[i] Jordanian authorities also reported other UAV interceptions earlier in 2023. In May, a Jordanian airstrike killed a prominent drug dealer in Syrian territory. For more on “Captagon,” the key illicit substance smuggled from Syria, see: Lucas Winter, “Pharmaceutical Drugs and the Syrian War,” OE Watch,December 2015. 


Image Information:

Image:  An Ababil-3 UAV at an Iranian arms expo on Kish Island in November 2016.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ababil_3_UAV.jpg  
Attribution: CC 4.0


Iran Ready To Help Syria Rebuild Its Defense Infrastructure

Iranian Defense Minister Mohammed Reza-Ashtiani meets with Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of General Staff of the Syrian Army, 10 May 2023

Iranian Defense Minister Mohammed Reza-Ashtiani meets with Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of General Staff of the Syrian Army, 10 May 2023.


“Iran is now ready to use its capacities and capabilities to rebuild and contribute to the development of the infrastructure of the Syrian defense industry.”


The 12-year-old Syrian civil war appears to be nearing its end. As the Arab League re-embraces Syria and the international community begins to discuss reconstruction,[i] an opportunity from which Iran also seeks to profit,[ii] the Iranian Ministry of Defense also seeks to rebuild and reconstruct Syria’s military, according to the excerpted news story from Iran’s Holy Defense News Agency. While neither Tehran nor Damascus have yet reported an agreement for Iran to rebuild the Syrian military, the Iranian government expects repayment for its military investment in and dispatch of volunteers and advisers to Syria during the war.[iii] The recent visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Syria, among other bilateral visits and exchanges, suggest that cementing and augmenting the Iran-Syria axis is a strategic priority for Tehran. From the Iranian perspective, helping rebuild Syria’s defense sector achieves two goals. Strategically, it advances Iran’s goal of militarily eliminating Israel as a Jewish state, while operationally, it provides an important revenue stream for Iran’s domestic military industries.


Source:

“Amir Ashtiani: Amadegi Iran baraye komak beh Tawseah Zirsakht-e Sanaea’-e Defah-e Suriyah (Amir Ashtiani: Iran Ready to Help Develop Infrastructure for Syrian Defense Industry ),” Holy Defense News Agency (official news agency of Iran’s Defense Ministry), 10 May 2023. https://defapress.ir/fa/news/588336

Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, met with Lieutenant-General Abdel Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of the General Staff of the Syrian Army. While commemorating the memory of General Haj Qasem Soleimani as a martyr in the fight against terrorism and for the security of the Syrian people and the region, Ashtiani stated, “Relations between the two countries are experiencing one of the best periods in their history. We have a strategic agreement, but this is rooted in our brotherly relations.”

The Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, stating that the recent visit of the Iranian president to Damascus and his welcome by the Syrian government and people indicates deep bilateral relations, added, “This trip and its agreements as well as the issues I discussed with the Syrian Defense Minister in Moscow and Damascus are on the agenda….”Ashtiani, emphasizing the work of the Joint Commission on Defense-Technical Cooperation between the two countries, said, “Be sure, the Ministry of Defense of the Islamic Republic of Iran is now ready to use its capacities and capabilities to rebuild and contribute to the development of the infrastructure of the Syrian defense industry, just as it stood alongside the Syrian armed forces during the war against terrorism.”


Notes:

[i] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime controls much of the country except for some northern districts occupied by Turkish forces or their proxies, and the far northeast of the county in which Kurds have established an autonomous administration. The war’s destruction has been vast. A quarter of the country’s population has fled creating a refugee crisis in surrounding counties, and many are Syrians are displaced inside Syria. In some towns, rocket strikes, battle damage, and looting by various militias and armies has rendered upward of 90 percent of the structures uninhabitable.

[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Proposal To Build Railroads and Housing in Syria could Enrich IRGC” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/429079/download

[iii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Basij Recruiting for Syria Fight” OE Watch, March 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195441


Image Information:

Image: Iranian Defense Minister Mohammed Reza-Ashtiani meets with Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of General Staff of the Syrian Army, 10 May 2023
Source: https://cdn.isna.ir/d/2023/05/10/3/62604330.jpg?ts=1683727966517
Attribution: Iranian Students’ News Agency

Iran Opens New Helicopter, Drone Base in Southeastern Provincial Capital

Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.

Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.


“The helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened for large security missions.”


Iran is beefing up its military strike capability in its southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan with a new helicopter and drone-capable air base in the provincial capital of Zahedan. While the region is the second-largest Iranian province by size, its population is sparse and the province itself has long been considered a backwater. Indian Ocean trade from its strategic port of Chabahar remains miniscule in comparison to Iran’s Persian Gulf and Caspian ports.[i] According to the following excerpted article from Azad News Agency, the base will “accommodate IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] drones…[a]ll sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.” This announcement is notable since the region has long been a strategic Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime. Smuggling across Iran’s frontier with Afghanistan is a problem that predates Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The region has long been restive both because its harsh terrain gives shelter to criminals and terrorists and because of sectarian and ethnic tension between the local Sunni and Baluch population and the Shi’ite Persians and Azeris who dominate the Iranian regime and the IRGC. There has been no shortage of unrest in recent years, including high-profile attacks on the IRGC in the region.[ii] These conditions may be the prime reason, albeit unstated in the Iranian press, why the IRGC has established the base in Sistan va Baluchistan. The move may also reflect the Iranian regime hedging its bets regarding future relations with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan. Curiously, given previous Iranian investment in Chabahar, the decision to locate the base beyond helicopter range to the port raises questions about Iranian strategy, although it may reflect a rolling decision to deemphasize the strategic importance of the port in the future.


Source:

“Paygah-e Havaye va Balgard-e Niru-ye Zamini Sepah Aftah Shod (The Army Air Force Opens its Helicopter Headquarters),” Azad News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency that closely follows the government line), 10 May 2023. https://ana.press/fa/news/846682

…In the presence of General Hossein Salami, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an air and helicopter base named “Ali Arabi” was inaugurated in Zahedan, in the southeast of the country. It will also accommodate IRGC drones. All sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles can use the base that is built to the latest technical specifications and aviation standards.General Mohammed Pakpour, Commander of the IRGC Ground Forces, spoke about the objectives in building the base. “With the operation of this base, the IRGC’s ground force helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened and equipped for large security, defense, rescue and rescue missions, support, people assistance and service,” he said. “In addition to creating the capacity for maintenance and simultaneous take-off of dozens of helicopters, all capacity for refueling, hangering, repairs and maintenance have been created.”


Notes:

[i] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Construction Begins on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/359394/download

[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Border Guard Post Overrun, Guards Abducted” OE Watch, December 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/252911/download


Image Information:

Image: Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.
Source: https://ana.press/files/fa/news/1402/2/20/228265_685.jpg
Attribution: Azad News Agency

Iran Considers Rapprochement With Pakistan

 Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, 20 September 2022.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, 20 September 2022.


“He expressed hope that Islamic countries will…form a united and coherent front.”


While certain pillars of Iranian foreign policy, such as rejection of Israel’s right to exist and opposition to the United States remain immutable, over the past two decades, Iran has undertaken diplomatic rapprochement on several fronts. Relations between Iran and Russia, for example, are at their closest in 50 years.[i] The March 2023 announcement that Iran and Saudi Arabia would resume diplomatic ties breaks down an important barrier between Iran and the Arab world. As the accompanying article from the Iranian Fars News Agency relays, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s call for greater strategic cooperation between Iran and Pakistan reflects Iran’s continued efforts for rapprochement with traditional rivals.

Raisi’s outreach to Pakistan comes on the heels of exacerbated tensions between Iran and Pakistan over Afghanistan: Iran backed many Shiite Hazara groups and western Afghanistan’s ethnic Persians, while Pakistan supported Sunni and Pashtun warlords culminating in its embrace of the Taliban. In the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, however, Iran sought a new approach. It cooperated with Pakistan to operate border markets on both sides of the Iran-Afghanistan and Iran-Pakistan frontiers. Iran also decided to engage the Taliban diplomatically rather than stonewall them or fight them by proxy.[ii]

Iran’s effort to build better relations with Pakistan also takes place amidst rumors of U.S. efforts to broker a rapprochement between Israel and Pakistan. The Iranian government would look at any such development as a security threat, much as it considers Azerbaijan’s ties with Israel a threat to its security. Any Iran-Pakistan rapprochement would also directly augment China’s position. Pakistan’s indebtedness to China as a result of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has increased Beijing’s influence in Islamabad. China’s efforts to broker Iran-Saudi rapprochement demonstrate Tehran’s growing openness to China as well. While Raisi might pitch animosity toward Israel as the basis for growing ties, a position that would have populist appeal among Pakistanis, commonalities regarding China may be as important.


Source:

“Raisi dar Goftegu ba Nakohost Vazir-e Pakistan: Keshavarha-ye Islami ba Tashkil Junbeh-e Vahid Mana’ Tadavem Aghdamat-e Dadamenshaneh Siyonistha Shavand  (Raisi, in a Conversation with the Prime Minister of Pakistan: Islamic Countries Should Form a United Front to Prevent the Continuation of the Abusive Actions of the Zionists),” Fars News Agency (news agency closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 13 April 2023. https://www.farsnews.ir/news/14020124000742

In a telephone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Ayatollah Sayyid Ibrahim Raisi expressed deep concern over recent developments in Palestine. He condemned the Zionist regime’s crimes, especially the indignity that the Al-Aqsa Mosque suffered, and expressed hope that Islamic countries will prevent the continuation of the Zionists’ brutal actions by forming a united and coherent front.

Later in the telephone conversation, the president pointed to the longstanding and friendly relations between the two countries, and expressed hope that these relations, especially in the field of economic and energy, will expand even further. He said that the policy of strengthening relations with neighbors and developing relations with Islamic countries is one of the priorities of the 13th [Raisi] government….… Shehbaz Sharif also emphasized his country’s interest in strengthening Tehran-Islamabad relations, pointing to Iran’s privileged position in the region and the importance of expanding Islamabad’s relations with Tehran. He stressed his government’s readiness not only to review economic cooperation projects, but also Pakistan’s willingness to implement them.


Notes:

[i] Michael Rubin, “Iran-Russia Relations” OE Watch, July 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195435

[ii] Michael Rubin, “An Afghan Perspective: New Phase in Afghanistan-Iran Relations” OE Watch, July 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/340009 and Michael Rubin, “Iran Talking to the Taliban,” OE Watch, June 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/336632


Image Information:

Image: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, 20 September 2022.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1401/06/29/14010629000909_Test_PhotoN.jpg
Attribution: Fars News Agency

Iran Seeks To Reestablish Embassy and Consulate in Saudi Arabia Before Hajj

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana'ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.


“Efforts will be made to reopen and activate our country’s diplomatic representations before the annual Hajj.”


On 10 March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a deal to restore diplomatic relations for the first time in more than seven years. On 6 April 2023, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, met in Beijing to discuss the technicalities of resuming ties. According to the excerpted article from the Iran-based Hamshahri newspaper, these diplomatic efforts are taking place in earnest to normalize relations before the Hajj, which begins 26 June 2023.[i] Iran-Saudi ties have long been fraught. While ethnic tension between the two Middle East regional powers predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution, sectarian and ideological differences in the post-1979 period created significantly more hostility.[ii] Both countries accuse the other of supporting terrorist groups targeting the other.[iii] So, while the restoration of diplomatic relations may appear straightforward, Iran’s track record breeds suspicion, especially regarding the Hajj. In 1986, the head of the predecessor to the Quds Force, sought to infiltrate saboteurs into Mecca under cover of the Hajj to unleash a bombing campaign. The following year, clashes erupted between Iranian demonstrators and Saudi security forces, leading to the deaths of more than 400 pilgrims. Despite Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s willingness to reconcile with Iran, Saudi security forces and intelligence will tread carefully, especially regarding the size of the mission and the freedoms Iranian diplomats might enjoy inside the Kingdom. During the 1986 incident, hardline ideologues within Iran’s security services ignored the Iranian government’s desire to break out of its isolation. Almost four decades later, it remains to be seen if the same dynamics are at play, especially as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps do not fall under the authority of either President Ebrahim Raisi or Foreign Minister Abdollahian.


Source:

“Talash baraye Rahandazi Saferat-e Iran dar Arabistan qabl az Ayam-e Hajj (The Struggle to Set Up an Iranian Embassy in Saudi Arabia before the Hajj),” Hamshahri (mass circulation general newspaper), 12 April 2023. https://www.hamshahrionline.ir/news/753453

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani said that an Iranian technical delegation arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday [April 12] at noon in a new step toward the implementation of the agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume formal relations and diplomatic activities of political and consular representations of the two countries. Saudi officials welcomed the delegation.

The spokesman added that the Iranian delegation divided into two working groups to take the necessary measures to set up the embassy and consulate general in Riyadh and Jeddah respectively and also to discuss reestablishment of a permanent representation of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the [Jeddah-based] Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also added that the Saudi technical delegation, which arrived in Iran on Saturday [April 8, 2022], will leave for Mashhad tomorrow [April 13, 2022].“Efforts will be made to reopen and activate our country’s diplomatic representations before the annual Hajj,” the spokesman added.


Notes:

[i] Within the United States, much of the ensuing coverage and commentary focuses on China’s role as diplomatic broker, but Iranian discussion largely focuses on the technicalities and timeframe for resuming its diplomatic missions in the Kingdom.

[ii] Saudi Arabia was among Iraq’s most generous financial backers during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. After clashes at the Hajj in 1987, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran, a freeze that lasted close to four years. During the 1990s, there was a brief rapprochement, but tensions renewed after the 2003 U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein as Iranian-backed militias grew more powerful in Iraq at the expense of the country’s Sunni Arabs. In 2012, protests that Saudi authorities accused Iran of instigating wracked Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia responded with brute force, killing dozens and arrested Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia’s top Shiite scholar, who Saudi Arabia later executed. For more on the dynamics at the time, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Demands Release of Nigerian Shi’ite Cleric” OE Watch, September 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195361/download

[iii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Prosecution of Arab Separatist Highlights Supposed Saudi Ties” OE Watch, 3-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/407738/download


Image Information:

Image: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.
Source: https://media.hamshahrionline.ir/d/2022/11/08/4/4752193.jpg?ts=1667935844000
Attribution: Islamic Republic News Agency

Iran Installs New Precision Missiles on Army Helicopters

A Shafagh missile mounted on an Iranian Bell-114 helicopter.

A Shafagh missile mounted on an Iranian Bell-114 helicopter.


“The missile… is capable of destroying multiple ground targets in all weather conditions.”


Almost five years to the day after the Iranian Army unveiled a prototype short-ranged, “Shafagh” air-to-ground missile, Iranian Army Ground Force Commander Brig Gen. Kioumars Heydari announced that the Army has now equipped its aviation wing with a new generation Shafagh. In the accompanying article from Mashregh News,a source close to Iran’s intelligence and security apparatus, Heydari described the short-range missile as utilitarian, capable of mounting on manned and unmanned fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters, and able to find targets in all weather and times of day. The description of the Shafagh offered in the Iranian press suggests the missile is the Iranian equivalent of an AGM-114 Hellfire, though Iranian officials claim a slightly larger warhead and greater range. Even if Iranian figures exaggerate their claims regarding the Shafagh’s capabilities, an increased precision to drone-launched missiles could complicate regional operations for the United States, its Arab allies, and Israel.[i]

While Iran has recently modernized its helicopter fleet, Heydari’s emphasis on helicopter operations is curious, given both the vulnerability of helicopters to longer-range missiles and the lack of obvious use in the regional environment.[ii] If the Iranian military wanted to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, for example, utilizing anti-ship missiles or drones would prove far less risky. Iran’s preference for proxy warfare to maintain plausible deniability and to avoid direct confrontation with superior military powers makes the use of helicopters to support operations unlikely. Heydari’s unveiling of the Shafagh, therefore, may have more to do with Iran’s ambitions to be a military export power. Iranian commanders say that Iran’s indigenous military industry “stands among the world’s top states” regarding both drones and high-precision missiles. While Iran now reportedly exports drones to Russia among other states, a proliferation of Hellfire-like missiles to regional proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen—all of which already utilize Iranian drones—might augment the lethality of these groups. So too would the export of helicopters to Iran’s regional allies like Syria or Yemen’s Houthi-led government. Given the frequency of drone and missile strikes across the region, any increase in precision will reduce the diplomatic space to refrain from military retaliation in response to attacks perpetrated by proxies or militias. After all, it is more politically feasible to wave off retaliation for a strike that misses rather than one that strikes key infrastructure or kills multiple soldiers or officials.


Source:

“Nasib-e Nasal-e Jadid Mushakha-ye ‘Shafagh’ Ruye Balgaradaha-ye Havaniruz- Artesh (Installation of a New Generation of Shafagh Missiles on Army Helicopters),” Mashregh News (news source close to Iran’s intelligence and security apparatus), 9 April 2023. https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/1360280

The new generation of “Shafagh” [Twilight] missiles that have special operational capabilities, compared to previous models were installed on Army Aviation’s Cobra and [Bell-] 214 helicopters. The missile, which is 1.9 meters long and weighs about 50 kilograms, is capable of destroying multiple ground targets in all weather conditions, and is also useful for night operations. The new model also has a range of 20 kilometers, a significant increase compared to previous generations. The new Shafagh missiles can be installed on all types of helicopters, drones, and fighters. They have laser guidance, travel at a speed of 750 meters per second [1678 mph] and can destroy both moving and stationary targets within a radius of 15-20 kilometers. They are precise to a margin of 0.20 meters.

The two-stage missile, using a 13-kilogram warhead, has significant penetration power and can destroy all types of armored systems. It can destroy, for example, tanks, personnel carriers, concrete trenches, floats, and other defense infrastructure.

The prototype Shafaghs are actually based upon the Shahab-e Saqeb defense missile that uses an infrared imaging seeker. This technology has the ability to track armored and floating targets from all angles, has a relatively high resistance to jamming and deception, and has much better sensitivity in detecting targets.One of the advantages of this missile, which is similar to a Hellfire missile, is the ease of deployment and the need not to have to stabilize the helicopter in front of a target. Rather, the Shafagh is in the category of ‘shoot-and-forget’ missiles.


Notes:

[i] This is not the first time Iran has claimed enhanced missile precision. See: Michael Rubin, “Iran Claims Enhanced Missile Precision” OE Watch, May 2017. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195361/download

[ii] Michael Rubin, “Iran: Reconstruction and Overhaul of Helicopters” OE Watch, March 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/368233/download


Image Information:

Image: A Shafagh missile mounted on an Iranian Bell-114 helicopter.
Source: https://cdn.mashreghnews.ir/d/2022/04/09/4/3446518.jpg
Attribution: Mashregh News

Iran Capitalizing on Post-Earthquake Conditions To Deepen Influence in Syria

Aleppo in the war (2016).

Aleppo in the war (2016).


… Local media sources also indicated that the excavation machinery of the Iranian IRGC-affiliated ‘Khatam al-Anbiya’ company began demolishing a number of residential buildings in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, under the pretext that they were cracked as a result of the earthquake…”


On 6 February, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near the Syria-Turkish border, damaging and destroying countless structures in surrounding areas and killing more than 50,000 people. The Syrian province of Aleppo was especially hard hit, with damages estimated as high as $3.2 billion, mostly in the eponymous provincial capital.[i]  Iran and its allied Iraqi factions from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have provided much publicized assistance to parts of Aleppo, in ways that are likely to deepen their influence among the local population.  The accompanying excerpt, from the Syrian opposition news website Enab Baladi, highlights a visit to Aleppo by Ismail Qaani, Qasim Soleimani’s successor as head of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.  Qaani was the first foreign official to visit Syria after the earthquake, and his visit to Aleppo preceded that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by two days. When al-Assad finally went to Aleppo, he met briefly with Abdel Aziz al-Muhammadawi (a.k.a. Abu Fadak), the head of PMF, who was there to oversee PMF post-earthquake assistance in Aleppo.  Like his predecessor, who was killed in the same strike that killed Soleimani, al-Muhammadawi is considered a close Quds Force ally.  According to the Enab Baladi report, al-Assad thanked al-Muhammadawi and his organization for their humanitarian assistance.  Iranian-backed entities are now seeking government permits to rebuild parts of the city, as they have across the war-ravaged suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus in recent years.[ii]  The second accompanying excerpt, from the Qatari-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, explains how the IRGC-linked construction company Khatam al-Anbiya had demolished some buildings in eastern Aleppo and sought to lay the foundations for a future bastion of Iranian support in the area.

Other media reports have speculated that Iran also has used post-earthquake humanitarian aid as a cover to transfer weapons to Syria. The Israeli government was quick to warn of this possibility, and in early March, it bombed Aleppo airport, targeting purported Iranian drones being stored there.  As noted in the accompanying article, from the Saudi-aligned daily Independent Arabia, there are conflicting reports about what exactly was targeted, with some sources claiming it was drones transferred from a nearby, recently rehabilitated airbase that is now under Russian control (al-Jarrah), and others claiming it involved weapons brought in by land and air under the cover of humanitarian assistance.  Regardless, the strikes led to a temporary halt in operations at Aleppo’s airport, forcing a diversion of humanitarian aid flights and prompting UN and government officials to warn of dire humanitarian consequences.[iii]


Sources:

“الحشد الشعبي” يضغط على النظام في حلب بشقق سكنية لمتضرري الزلزال

(PMF pressures the regime in Aleppo via apartment buildings for earthquake victims,)” Enab Baladi (Syrian opposition news website), 28 February 2023. https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/631353

On February 8, Ismail Qaani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, visited Aleppo where he inspected earthquake victims’ conditions and supervised the work of Iranian rescuers at rubble-clearing sites, according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency. He was the first foreign official to arrive in Syria after the earthquake, and appeared in Aleppo two days before the head of the regime arrived in the city…

The researcher on Iranian affairs, Mustafa al-Nuaimi, explained that Iranian activity in Syria falls within two tracks, political and military…On the military level, the cargo planes that land in Aleppo and Damascus may be loaded with precision-strike missile technology and drones, although they were not bombed by Israel… this is a major military track that can be exploited under the guise of aid.


“إيران تعزز وجودها في حلب بذريعة مساعدة منكوبي الزلزال

(Iran strengthens its presence in Aleppo on the pretext of helping earthquake victims),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 4 March 2023. https://tinyurl.com/phm3y4tk

Local media sources also indicated that the excavation machinery of the Iranian IRGC-affiliated “Khatam al-Anbiya” company began demolishing a number of residential buildings in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, under the pretext that they were cracked as a result of the earthquake… the Reconstruction Office of the Khatam al-Anbiya Company offered to buy homes as-is from owners of earthquake-damaged or even undamaged homes in these eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo.


“ما السياق الإقليمي لضربات إسرائيل ضد إيران في سوريا؟

(What is the regional context for Israel’s strikes against Iran in Syria?)” Independent Arabia (Saudi-aligned daily), 10 March 2023. https://tinyurl.com/2s364yp8
Opposition media outlets reported that the bombing of Aleppo airport was due to the existence of a weapons and missile depot. The Israeli “Alma” Research Center (close to intelligence) reported that some of them had arrived by land through the Al-Qaim crossing with Iraq, in trucks transporting weapons with humanitarian aid for those affected by the earthquake that hit northern Syria and Turkey on 6 February, while some of these weapons also arrived in a plane to the airport. In another version, the opposition media outlet Orient Net indicated that the weapons were transferred from al-Jarrah Military Airport in Aleppo. The Russian army is now deployed there and allegedly asked the Iranians to transfer their equipment away from the base.


Notes:

[i] “Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation (GRADE) Report,” World Bank, 20 February 2023. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099084502282328299/pdf/P1721710045bd103f089f109cfbcb15aa2b.pdf

[ii] For more see: Lucas Winter, “Iran Cements its Presence in Syria,” OE Watch, 05-2019.  

[iii] According to the UN, the “closure could have severe humanitarian implications for people in Aleppo, one of the worst earthquake impacted governorates in Syria…We call on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities.” See: “United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih statement on the Aleppo International Airport strikes,” 8 March 2023. https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/united-nations-resident-coordinator-and-humanitarian-coordinator-ad-interim-syria-el-mostafa-benlamlih-statement-aleppo-international-airport-strikes


Image Information:

Image:  Aleppo in the war (2016)
Source: Louai Barakat, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aleppo_in_the_war_2.jpg  
Attribution: CC 4.0

Iran’s Increased Defense Budget Leading to More Arms Exports

Brigadier-General Seyyed Mahdi Farahi.

Brigadier-General Seyyed Mahdi Farahi.


“This year, the [Defense Industries] Organization has grown by 200 percent.”


Iran has steadily increased its defense budget following the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the lifting of many United Nations sanctions.[i] According to the excerpted article from the Ministry of Defense’s Holy Defense News Agency, that windfall has now come to Iran’s Defense Industry Organization (DIO), the state-owned conglomerate meant to bolster the Iran’s indigenous military technology development and manufacturing base. In the excerpted article, Deputy Defense Minister Seyyed Mahdi Farahi, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general who previously headed Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization and served as DIO managing director, reported that the DIO budget tripled from the previous year. DIO exports have reportedly more than doubled, suggesting that Iran has recouped some of the investment it made to develop the same weapons it deploys itself. Iran’s exports of drones to Russia likely comprises a large portion of these export revenues.[ii]

Iranian arms exports might also be bolstering IRGC coffers given that Farahi may funnel the proceeds of Iranian weapon sales to the IRGC. IRGC-run businesses seldom if ever return their profits to the central treasury, and the IRGC’s official budget allocation accounts for perhaps only a quarter of its actual funding. Farahi’s celebration of DIO may also reflect renewed investment in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs given that such public spotlight often coincides with an organization’s growing centrality to Iranian strategy. The DIO would be the paramount organization coordinating domestic manufacture of military hardware for these programs as Iran is loath to rely on external manufacturing for such high-profile hardware because of Iran’s vulnerability to sanctions. Both the European Union and the U.S. Treasury Department have sanctioned Farahi for his role in proliferating weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems, work which often saw Farahi travel to and negotiate with North Korea.[iii]


Source:

“Rashad 200 dar sadi sazman-e sanaya’-e defah nesbat beh sal gerefteh (Two Hundred Percent Growth in Defense Industry Organizations Over Past Year),” Holy Defense News Agency (official news agency of Iran’s Defense Ministry), 13 March 2023. https://defapress.ir/fa/news/578644

Explaining the favorable performance of the Defense Industries Organization in 2022-23, General Farahi said. “This year the Organization has grown by 200 percent over the previous year and has seen a 2.5 times growth in exports.”

The deputy minister of defense and support of the armed forces continued: “The organization also produced 57 new products from its research this year and after production, delivered these to the armed forces and even exported some of these products, which is very gratifying for the country’s defense industry….

Farahi said that behind these successes was the employment of some great intellects. “Maintaining and attracting efficient, committed and expert human resources is the beating heart of the organization and is one of the most important issues that should be considered by the managers of armed forces industries in order to advance the supreme goals of the organization.”


Notes:

[i] For previous discussion of the Iranian defense budget, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Budget Increases for Missiles, Qods Force,” OE Watch, 08-2017. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/201732/download and Michael Rubin, “Iran: Military Budget Increased 145%,” OE Watch, 06-2017, https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/197269/download

[ii] Iran-Russia conversations regarding drone exports predate the current Ukraine war. See: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Russia Desperate for our UAV Technology,” OE Watch, 11-2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195245/download

[iii] For discussion of U.S. sanctions against Farahi, see: “Treasury Sanctions Those Involved in Ballistic Missile Procurement for Iran,” U.S. Department of Treasury, 17 January 2016. https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jl0322


Image Information:

Image: Brigadier-General Seyyed Mahdi Farahi
Source: https://image.alkawthartv.ir/imagema//original/2021/12/31/637765384943630275.jpg
Attribution: Al-Kawthar Television

Iran Unveils Updated Yasin Training Jet With Possible Close Combat Applications

The Yasin training jet, 11 March 2023.

The Yasin training jet, 11 March 2023.


“The Yasin will be able to be used… for close air support.”


In 2019 the Iranian military unveiled its new Yasin Training Jet [GRLCUT(1] to great fanfare. In March 2023, Iran announced the final prototype and Yasin production line, according to the excerpted article from the semi-official, pro-government Iranian Students’ News Agency. The latest variation of the training aircraft is said to include many upgrades, including new ejection seats, avionics, engine, and landing gear. An Iran-produced airborne weather radar has also been fitted into the Yasin. According to the article, since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, pilot training was put “on the agenda” of the Armed Forces, but Iran has continued to suffer from an aging fleet and untrained pilots.[i] The article suggests that pilot training is paramount in the development of the Yasin,[ii] but there is also speculation that Iran may fit the aircraft with weaponry, allowing it to become a low-cost, easy-to-operate, multi-role fighter with a focus on close air support. If Iran can produce the Yasin at scale, not only would it be a valuable training platform, but it could also be deployed to many of the conflict zones in which Iran has previously relied on drones for air support—namely Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The introduction of the Yasin, or any Iranian manned aircraft, into any of these conflicts would risk escalating these proxy wars further.


Source:

“Ravanma-ye az Namuneh Ma’yar Tawlid-e Jet-e Amuzesh-e ‘Yasin’ (Unveiling of the Training Jet Prototype ‘Yasin’),” Iranian Students’ News Agency (semi-official student-run news agency that promotes the Iranian government’s line), 11 March 2023. https://www.isna.ir/news/1401122013717

The Yasin’s training jet production prototype was unveiled in the presence of the Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, while the mass production line of this training jet was also inaugurated…. Pilot training is one of the most advanced and complex training regimens that any country can do. The Islamic Republic of Iran has succeeded in applying world-class education in the fields of science and technology, and training pilots is no exception.

After the end of the [Iran-Iraq] war, the necessity for pilot training was put on the agenda of the Armed Forces. From that time, with the input of veterans and professors, faculties for training pilots were created….

So, how does the Islamic Republic of Iran train pilots and what is the role of Yassin training jet?

The training of the fighter aircraft pilot is fundamentally different from the civilian pilot. For military pilots, training is done in three stages: First, basic training for learning flight basics. Second, training for flight skills, regulations and maneuver. And, third, advanced training for tactical flight ability with advanced fighters. An important feature of advanced training jets is that pilots from operational bases continue to exploit them, and pilots become familiar with air combat and ground combat tactics and techniques, and learn the use of various weapons. All of these advantages and features have been the reason for…the Ministry of Defense to design and build this aircraft.

Does the aircraft also have combat capability?

Since combat training is in many cases carried out with real weapons and in simulated battle environments, it is natural that Yasin jet has the capability to conduct combat missions as well. In the development plan, it will be able to be used as a light combat aircraft and for close air support.


Notes:

[i] For background on efforts within Iran to re-equip its air force, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran-China Air Force Cooperation on Horizon?” OE Watch, December 2015. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195975/download See also: Michael Rubin, “Iranian F-14 Crash Highlights Iran’s Need for New Fighter Contract,” OE Watch, August 2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/421643/download

[ii] While a potentially positive step for the Iranian Air Force, the Yasin is not the bridge trainer required for Iran’s recent purchase of the Su-35 multi-role fighters from Russia. The Su-35 is far too complex and would necessitate a more advanced trainer. It is more likely that Russian pilots will train Iranian pilots to fly the Su-35.


Image Information:

Image: The Yasin training jet, 11 March 2023.
Source: https://cdn.isna.ir/d/2023/03/11/3/62547091.jpg?ts=1678512083735
Attribution: Iranian Students’ News Agency

Iran Praises Revolutionary Guards’ Proxy Afghan Brigade

Mothers of Fatamayoun Militiamen Hold Photos of Sons Killed in Action, 2017.

Mothers of Fatamayoun Militiamen Hold Photos of Sons Killed in Action, 2017.


“If it were not for their sacrifices, today the Islamic State would have advanced to Bangladesh.”


Against the backdrop of the fight against the Islamic State that erupted in 2014, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force established a number of ethnic-based movements to fight in Syria.[i] The Quds Force deployed the Afghan Shia militia Liwa Fatemiyoun (Fatimid Banner) to Syria primarily to defend the Damascus shrine of Zaynab, the daughter of Imam Ali and the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.[ii] In the excerpted article from IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency, General Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh, Deputy Commander of the Quds Force, speaks about the legacy of the Liwa Fatemiyoun upon the death of one of its commanders. He describes the Fatemiyoun, an Afghan proxy of the IRGC, as a core component of the Iranian strategy to foil the Islamic State. While this may be an exaggeration in terms of actual fighting, the IRGC used the crisis to form the Fatemiyoun and other ethnic militias to further the IRGC’s aim to export revolution.  That the Quds Force did not disband the Liwa Fatemiyoun after the defeat of the Islamic State inside Syria suggests that the IRGC seeks to preserve the group to utilize beyond its initial purpose. Fallahzadeh’s discussion that absent the Afghan brigade, the Islamic State might have reached Bangladesh, suggests that Iran might be ready for a renewed push into South Asia. Shortly after the Iranian Revolution, the IRGC sponsored not only Lebanese Hezbollah but sought to create a corollary movement among Pakistani Shia. While infiltration of the Lebanese diaspora helped the Quds Force project power not only in the Middle East, but also Africa and Latin America, it traditionally fell short in South Asia. Forty years later, the Quds Force might see the Liwa Fatemiyoun as a viable substitute for its failed Pakistan efforts to extend its influence as far to the east as it does to the west.[iii]


Source:

“Sardar Falahzadeh: Agar Aysargariha-ye Fatamayun Nabud, Emruz Da’esh ta Bangladesh Pishruye Kardeh Bud (General Falahzadeh: If It Were Not for the Sacrifices of the Fatamayun, the Islamic State Would Have Advanced to Bangladesh),” Fars News Agency (a news agency closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 13 February 2023. https://www.farsnews.ir/news/14011124000424

General Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh, the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, met in Yazd with the family of the late Sayyid Qasem Hosseini, a warrior defending the shrine from the [Liwa] Fatemiyoun Division. In this meeting, General Fallahzadeh commemorated upon the memory of the martyrs defending the shrine and said, “the Islamic State was not a normal organization, but a vicious pedigree that was both determined and motivated by its false belief, and, in a single sentence, it can be said that the Islamic State was the army of false belief.

The deputy commander of the Quds Force added, “Usually mercenary armies try to avoid suffering casualties, but the Islamic State, with their firm but vicious conviction, martyred our warriors with suicide operations and perished in the process. In Syria, all blasphemy was against all Islam, and it was the alliance between Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iran that stopped the Islamic State because [our] correct belief was greater and stronger.”

… He described the Islamic State as a product of the American Zionist plan and continued, “The defenders of the shrine and Fatemiyoun warriors, led by the Supreme Leader and the commander of the hearts of Haj Qassem Aziz [Qassem Soleimani], defeated this plan and secured a victory for the Islamic Front.”Referring to Fatemiyoun’s role in defending the Shrine of [Al-Sayyida] Zaynab [in Damascus], the deputy commander of the Quds Force said, “These beloved ones played an essential role in defending Islam, Shi’ism and humanity and, if it were not for their sacrifices, today the Islamic State would have advanced to Bangladesh.”


Notes:

[i] For more background on Iran’s Afghan and Pakistani militias, see: Michael Rubin, “Cleric Speaks on Iran’s Foreign Militias,” OE Watch, February 2019. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/266059/download

[ii] Liwa Fatemiyoun was formed in 2014, although it is possible that former Afghan National Army soldiers are now serving in the ranks of Liwa Fatemiyoun, as thousands have fled Afghanistan and now reside in Iran.

[iii] For an earlier discussion of Iran’s concept of strategic boundaries extending to its west, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Influence Extends to the Mediterranean,” OE Watch, September 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/242569/download


Image Information:

Image: Mothers of Fatamayoun Militiamen Hold Photos of Sons Killed in Action, 2017
Source: https://images.khabaronline.ir//images/2016/5/16-5-14-135413950108_0633065.jpg
Attribution: Khabar Online