Jordan Alarmed by Escalation in Syrian Smuggling Tactics

Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.


“What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.”


Jordanian authorities are signaling growing alarm over the willingness of smugglers from Syria to use armed force to circumvent tightened Jordanian border security. This comes at a delicate moment for the kingdom due to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, given Jordan’s large Palestinian population and concerns that Jordan could become a conduit for weapons to be smuggled into the West Bank. Smuggling has long been an economic mainstay for communities along the Syria-Jordan border, especially after the Syrian government lost control of key border crossings during the Syrian civil war. Since then, smuggling across the border has become increasingly institutionalized and largely controlled by networks within the Syrian Army’s 4th Division, many of them linked to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. Concerns that potentially hostile armed groups control smuggling routes from Syria has led Jordan to tighten security across the shared border, in turn leading smugglers to seek new ways to circumvent border security. Recent reports and statements suggest that smuggling networks in Syria are increasingly willing to use force to get across the increasingly monitored border.

The first accompanying excerpt, from the Syrian opposition news website alsouria.net, explains how small-scale smuggling has “evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.” The article adds that Jordanian authorities are concerned about weapons being smuggled into the kingdom. Particularly noteworthy was a mid-December firefight in which a Jordanian border guard was killed, weapons were seized, and an airstrike took place on a purported smuggling safehouse inside Syrian territory, attributed to but not claimed by the Jordanian military. The second excerpt, also from alsouria.net, details the handful of weapons seized during the incident—a handful of rocket propelled grenades, mines, and sniper rifles. Although troubling from a Jordanian perspective, the small number of weapons were likely not part of the primary cargo being smuggled, but rather used by smugglers to force their way across the border. Instead, as the excerpt notes, the primary cargo was hashish and five million Captagon pills, likely destined for Saudi Arabia. The production and export of Captagon, a synthetic amphetamine-like substance—produced in Lebanon and Syria and consumed heavily in Gulf countries—has become a key part of Syria’s wartime economy.[i] The third accompanying excerpt, from the English-language Arab Weekly, claims that Jordan is inflating the threat from smugglers to “secure assistance and stronger cooperation” from Gulf countries, most prominently Saudi Arabia, the destination for much of the contraband. If evidence emerges that weapons are being smuggled across the border, concerns that these weapons could end up in the hands of Shia groups in Saudi Arabia would likely elicit a response from Riyadh. Smuggling along the Syria-Jordan border peaks in the cold winter months, due to the dense fog that often envelops the area at night, hampering visibility for those seeking to curb smugglers. While the seasonal uptick is expected, the increasing willingness of smugglers to engage in firefights with Jordanian border guards is concerning. The failure of increased Jordanian border security measures is a latent concern for Amman. Given that Iran and Hezbollah exert substantial influence over smuggling networks in Syria, the Syria-Jordan border may well become an additional regional flashpoint.


Sources:

“Syrian-Jordanian Border Battle Ends With Airstrikes, Amman Hints at Iran’s Involvement,” alsouria.net (Syrian opposition news website) via The Syrian Observer (Syrian news aggregator), 20 December 2023. https://syrianobserver.com/news/86785/syrian-jordanian-border-battle-ends-with-airstrikes-amman-hints-at-irans-involvement.html

What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces…

This form of military operations and clashes underscores the significant challenges confronting Jordan due to the Syrian regime and the escalating influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Despite the security measures and military tightening implemented by Amman along the Syrian-Jordanian border, smuggling operations have not only persisted but have also intensified. A particularly alarming security threat arising from these clashes is the initiation of arms and rocket smuggling operations, underscoring the extent of Iranian pressure on Jordan.

“حرب وقتلى” على الحدود السورية الأردنية..رسائل وتحذيرات وخيارات مفتوحة

War and death’ on the Syrian-Jordanian border… messages, warnings, and open options,” alsouria.net (Syrian opposition news website), 19 December 2023.

The Jordanian army seized about five million Captagon pills and about 13,000 hashish palms, in addition to 4 Rocket Launcher missiles, 4 RPG missiles, 10 anti-personnel mines, a G3 sniper rifle, and a M-16 type rifle equipped with a sniper scope.


“Is Jordan inflating smugglers’ threat on border with Syria?” The Arab Weekly (London-based Arabic-language weekly), 19 December 2023. https://thearabweekly.com/jordan-inflating-smugglers-threat-border-syria Observers believe however that Jordan is exaggerating the developments in the border region, pointing out that the phenomenon of active gangs is not new and that most countries suffer from it. Jordan is not an exception, especially since the neighbouring country, Syria, is gripped by security chaos, observers told The Arab Weekly. They suggest the exaggeration may be related to Jordan’s desire to present itself regionally, especially to the Arab Gulf countries, as the first line of defence for regional security. The aim, according to observers, is to secure assistance and stronger cooperation.


Notes:

[i] For more on the Captagon trade, see: Lucas Winter, “Pharmaceutical Drugs and the Syrian War,” OE Watch, December 2015. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195975 and Lucas Winter, “Syria Becoming Center of Illicit Drug Production and Export to Europe and Arabian Peninsula,” OE Watch, January 2021. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-21393-00-00-00-38-05-55/2021_2D00_01_2D00_01-Syria-Becoming-Center-of-Illicit-Drug-Production-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true


Image Information:

Image:  Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/syria/map Attribution: Public Domain


Iran Rationalizes Russia’s Pro-Arab Position on Disputed Islands

Iranian graphic depicting the strategic location and Iranian control over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands.


“Russia seems to take for granted its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”


Despite official warmth, Iran has reason to be suspicious of Russia, given Russia’s historic willingness to interfere in Iranian politics and/or infringe on Iranian sovereignty.[i] The excerpted opinion piece from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated news outlet Fararu.ir, highlights that one of the most sensitive sovereignty issues for Iran today revolves around three islands—Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands—occupied by Iranian forces in 1971 to prevent the UK from transferring their control to the UAE. While international law sides with the UAE, Iran has been unwilling to return the islands due to their strategic importance overseeing the shipping lanes on the Persian Gulf side of the Strait of Hormuz. Indeed, Abu Musa has become home to a major IRGC base.[ii] The excerpted article seeks to rationalize Russia’s decision to side with the UAE over Iran on questions about the islands’ sovereignty. It argues the UAE is an important outlet for the Russian economy in an era of isolation and sanctions. Russian officials may also believe Tehran has become so dependent on Moscow that Iran has little choice but to accept Russia’s pro-UAE position on the matter. Regardless, short of civil war distracting Iran during any transition following Khamenei’s death, there is little possibility that the UAE could liberate its occupied territories or that Russia could compel Iran to abandon the three islands. Still, Iranians have long memories and are unlikely to forgive the Kremlin for what they see as a betrayal. Iran may tilt more toward China in the future or simply bide its time and lick it wounds. But, when Iranians feel the moment is right, they will use the Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonbs episode to justify a future betrayal of Russia.


Sources:

“Cherayi Mawzehgiri Russiyeh dar Khasus Jazair She Ganeh” (What Explains Russia’s Position with Regard to the Three Islands?),” Fararu.com (nominally independent web portal close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 31 December 2023. https://fararu.com/fa/news/695771

Russia is a country that does not make treaty of friendship with anyone but rather pursues only its own interests. To put it simply, from the Russian perspective, there are no strategic enemies or strategic friends. Russians… do not see everything as zero sum game. For example, Russia is now at odds with the West, but it has also maintained cooperation on some issues, openly or covertly.

With this brief preamble, we return to recent Russian behavior with regard to the three islands. First, we need to look at things globally. Everyone knows well that America’s power in the world, if not weak is waning. On the other hand, China, with its strong economic backing and lack of arrogance in the style of the West – now has a positive image in the world. By mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China somehow announced its presence in the region, though it had been in place for many years as an emerging power in the world that is transforming from bipolar to multipolar….Perhaps one of the main reasons for Russia’s recent stance is the oil dollars of Arab countries, which have caught the eye of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia under sanctions. Moscow is under severe pressure due to Western sanctions, so it seems that with full cooperation with Arabs on the issue of the three Persian Gulf islands, it intends on one hand to influence the circle of America’s Arab allies and on the other hand, take a realistic view of its national and financial interests…. Russia seems to take for granted its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since the West has no place in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kremlin officials have sided with Arab countries without worrying about Iranian reactions.


Notes:

[i] For an earlier discussion of Iran’s the history and development of Iran-Russia relations, 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

[ii] For background on the island dispute, see: Michael Rubin, “Revolutionary Guard Chief Exacerbates UAE-Iran Island Dispute,” OE Watch, June 2012, https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195617


Image Information:

Image: Iranian graphic depicting the strategic location and Iranian control over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands.
Source: https://www.tabnak.ir/files/fa/tags/4706/1674926_155.jpg
Attribution: Tabnak.ir


Iran Claims Development of Cruise Missiles Guided by Artificial Intelligence

Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps- Navy, and regular Navy Commander Shahram Irani at a ceremony unveiling the Abu Mahdi cruise missile.


“This system is strategic and, in fact, we can say it has no equal.”


The excerpted article from Iran’s Fars News Agency claims that Iran is developing a cruise missile guided by artificial intelligence (AI). While Iran has a long history of claims that never materialize, these announcements do reflect the emphases of Iranian military thinking and the trajectory of Iranian military investment. Frequent announcements about drones and precision missiles, for example, reflect the growing arsenal of both, even though capabilities fall short of Tehran’s claims.

Iran’s desire to expand the capabilities of its cruise missile arsenal poses a real and growing threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf and northern Indian Ocean. Still, when Iranian military leaders first announced that they would field the Abu Mahdi cruise missile on naval vessels three years ago, they made no mention of AI.[i] Likewise, a claim by the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy that the Abu Mahdi cruise missile can turn “American aircraft carriers into metal scrap” is almost certainly bluster. Nevertheless, the announcement of AI-guided cruise missiles and the targeting of American shipping reflect both the hostility and ambition of the Iranian military industry. The name “Abu Mahdi” also reflects anti-American sentiment, given the United States was responsible for the death of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the same 3 January 2020 strike that killed Iranian Qods Force Chief Qassem Soleimani. As AI technologies become more accessible, it is inevitable that the Iranian military will try to incorporate elements of autonomous decision-making into targeting. Iranian military industries will likely be able to incorporate AI rapidly because so much AI remains open source and Iran has a large diaspora studying computer science and engineering in India, Russia, and Europe.. The greatest impact on the operational environment may be in allowing Iran’s missile arsenal to more broadly evade anti-aircraft defenses or strike targets of opportunity in dense maritime or urban settings.


Source:

“Behregiri Mushak-e Kruz Abu Mahdi a Hush-e Mosnava’i” (Abu Mahdi Cruise Missile Uses Artificial Intelligence),” Fars News Agency (news agency closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 25 July 2023. https://www.farsnews.ir/news/14020503000068

Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, participated this morning transferring the Abu Mahdi cruise missile to both the regular Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy. He said, “By the grace of God, and in line with the defense doctrine of the Islamic Republic of Iran to improve missile power for defense, today we are witnessing the ceremony for the Abu Mahdi long-range cruise missile joining the arsenal. This system is strategic and, in fact, we can say it has no equal. He added, “This system has special features, including a range of 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] which will increase the range of our naval defense several times. It is a very important point.”

Referring to other aspects of the Abu Mahdi missile, the Minister of Defense said, “Other features include pinpoint accuracy, high destructive power, the ability to maneuver around geographic obstacles, and cruising at a very low altitude.” He added, “The Abu Mahdi cruise missile can confront electronic warfare, evades radar systems and has utilized artificial intelligence to chart its optimal flight path.Ashtiani said, “We will be able to produce Abu Mahdi missiles.”


Notes:

[i] For previous mention of the Abu Mahdi cruise missile, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Navy Soon to Field Abu Mahdi Cruise Missile” OE Watch, November 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/356999/download


Image Information:

Image: Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps- Navy, and regular Navy Commander Shahram Irani at a ceremony unveiling the Abu Mahdi cruise missile.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1402/05/03/14020503000088_Test_PhotoN.JPG
Attribution: FarsNews.ir


India’s Security Engagement With Egypt and Saudi Arabia Evolving

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016)


“The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns…” 


India’s military influence activities continue to increase in key Arab countries Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[i] In May 2023, the commanders of the Indian and Egyptian armies met in Cairo to discuss deepening bilateral military cooperation, as reported in the first accompanying excerpt, from the Twitter account of the Indian Embassy in Cairo. The meeting follows up on earlier high-level engagements discussing defense cooperation, most notably Egyptian President Sisi’s January 2023 visit to India. Their armies conducted a bilateral exercise in Egypt in January, and earlier in May, the Indian and Egyptian air forces also conducted joint training, as mentioned in the second accompanying excerpt from the Egyptian defense ministry website. Egypt is seen as a possible gateway for Indian weapons sales to Africawith rumors of looming weapons sales and possible joint production agreements between the two countries.

The Indian military has also increasingly engaged with their Saudi counterparts. Indian and Saudi naval forces held a training exercise in the Persian Gulf in May, concurrent with a 3-week training program for around 50 Saudi naval personnel in India. India-Saudi military ties “are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” according to an Indian defense expert cited in the excerpt from the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. The two countries’ heads of state spoke in June on deepening relations in several areas, including defense.[ii] Saudi Arabia remains among the top global arms importers and an attractive potential customer for the Indian weapons industry. Saudi media is enamored of the narrative of multipolarity but rarely considers India as part of the great power competition discussion. India’s strategic importance is evaluated through the lens of its membership in non-Western multilateral organizations such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt recently became SCO dialogue partners and have moved toward greater involvement in BRICS institutions.[iii] India’s growing security involvement in the Arab world bears watching even though it remains overshadowed by the specter of growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.


Sources:

@indembcairo. Twitter, 15 May 2023. https://twitter.com/indembcairo/status/1658039664345858049 

Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande proceeded on a three-day visit to Egypt. The visit will provide an opportunity to enhance bilateral #DefenceCooperation and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.


“The Egyptian And The Indian Air Forces Carry Out A Joint Air Training At An Egyptian Air Base,” Egyptian Ministry of Defense Website, 8 March 2023. https://www.mod.gov.eg/ModWebSite/NewsDetails.aspx?id=42648

Within the framework of supporting and strengthening military cooperation relations with friendly and brotherly countries, the Egyptian and Indian Air Forces carried out a joint air exercise at an Egyptian air base. The training included implementation of a number of joint drills, including training on aerial refueling, which contributes to the exchange of training experiences between the elements participating from both sides


“Indian navy chief welcomes Saudi cadets during first joint training,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 2 June 2023. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2314776/saudi-arabia  

Muddassir Quamar, a Middle East expert and associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said there have also been efforts to develop cooperation in nonconventional defense areas, as well as the defense industry. “The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” he told Arab News.


Notes:

[i] For background see: “India-Egypt Ties: Sharply Rising Graph of Engagement,” Bharatshakti (Indian defense publication), 12 December 2022. https://bharatshakti.in/india-egypt-ties-sharply-rising-graph-of-engagement/ and “How India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Ties Are Deepening, And Will Help The Defence Industry,” ABP News (Indian news network), 28 May 2023. https://news.abplive.com/india-at-2047/how-india-saudi-arabia-strategic-ties-are-deepening-and-will-help-the-defence-industry-1605245

[ii] “PM Modi, Saudi Crown Prince review ties with focus on connectivity and defence,” Hindustan Times (Indian daily), 9 June 2023. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pm-saudi-crown-prince-review-ties-with-focus-on-connectivity-and-defence-101686249683889.html

[iii] Egypt recently became an official member of the New Development Bank, sometimes referred to as the “BRICS bank,” and Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks to join. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also both expressed interest in BRICS membership and are considered potential candidates were the group to expand.


Image Information:

Image:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016) 
Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_meeting_Mohammad_bin_Salman,_Deputy_Crown_Prince_of_Saudi_Arabia.jpg    
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 


Iran Claims New Flight Simulator Will Enhance National Power

Commander Mohammad Shirazi, chief of the military office for the leader of the Islamic Revolution


“If their personnel are trained on the flight simulator… Iran’s national power will increase greatly.”


The lifting of some international sanctions, the non-enforcement of others, and its blossoming relations with Russia have enabled Iran to upgrade its aging fleet[i] of fixed-wing combat aircraft.[ii]

One aspect of Iran’s effort to upgrade its air capabilities is in training. In the excerpted article from Mashregh News, an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus, Air Force chief Hamid Vahidi argues that a new domestically produced flight simulator will have an outsized impact on Iran’s capabilities and readiness, since earlier imported systems often did not always match Iran’s fleet or conditions. Vahidi also indicates that Iran could be a hub for combat pilot training across West Asia. This is an exaggeration, as few regional states, with the exception of Syria, fly the same aircraft that the Iranian Air Force does, and there is no apparent desire by most West Asian countries to train in Iran when they have access to training facilities and simulators in the United States and Europe. The introduction of the new system also demonstrates the interplay between Iranian universities and the military. In the West, most universities are clearly distinct from the military, except for service academies. In contrast, in Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps either runs entire universities or dominates certain academic departments whose research could enhance Iran’s military capabilities.[iii] It is reasonable to expect growing Iranian Air Force activity both in the Persian Gulf and along Iran’s eastern borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan as Iran augments its training and upgrades its fleet of aircraft.


Sources:

“Shabiyehsaz-e Moraghabat-e Pervaz Cheh Kar Baradi Darad? (What is the Purpose of the New Flight Simulator?),” Mashregh News (an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus), 13 June 2023. https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/1498976

…The flight control system made by the Army Air Force was unveiled this morning [13 June 2023] in the presence of General Mohammad Shirazi, chief of the military office for the Leader of the Islamic Revolution; Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi, chief of the Army’s Air Force; Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Marvinam, director of the Shahid Sattari University of Aeronautical Engineering, and a group of Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force specialists. This system replicated all the conditions of an air traffic control tower, such as weather, different times, and the real scenes of an airport. The Flight Simulator is used for training both undergraduate and graduate students as well as courses for flight attendant operations officers. The system is actually a set of five simulators that includes the flight control tower, airport approach radar and aircraft control radar.

Vahedi said, “This system was designed and built by our brave scientists and elite youth at Shahid Sattari Air University,” and added, “The indigenous flight simulator was built for the first time in the country, and we can use this system to train the students of the tower in all fields…

He continued, “The flight simulator is one of the systems we needed to train Air Force students, and was designed and built by using the experience of both the veterans and senior leaders of Shahid Sattati University….” Vahedi further stated that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the hub of flight simulators in the West Asia, and said the new simulators have upgrades those we already had to take into account the planes for which we did not have simulation….[Marvinam] said that if their personnel are trained on the flight simulator and perform all the necessary exercises, not only Shahid Sattari students but also the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force will augment their abilities and, more broadly, Iran’s national power will increase greatly.


Notes:

[i] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Wants Sukhoi-35 Fighters from Russia” OE Watch, October 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/427403/download

[ii] With regard to developing Russo-Iranian ties, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran-Russia Relations” OE Watch, July 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195435

[iii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “The University Jihad Stands Together with the Defense Jihad” OE Watch, November 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/356999/download


Image Information:

Image: Commander Mohammad Shirazi, chief of the military office for the leader of the Islamic Revolution, inspects the new flight monitoring simulator system, 13 June 2023.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1402/03/23/14020323000580638222618232475677_14000_PhotoT.jpg
Attribution: Fars 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 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