24 April 2018

Iran's Army of Drones, Target of Syria Strike: Rising Force or Limited Threat?

by Yaniv Kubovich

The recent airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel has brought to the forefront Iran’s intentions of establishing a network of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) in that country. The project could expand the Islamic Republic’s capabilities of gathering intelligence and prepare the groundwork for possible attacks. Iran began producing drones in the 1980s, building dozens of them, mainly for spying and aerial photography. In recent years, since joining the fighting in support of the Assad regime, its drones have been seen in the skies of Syria and Iraq. Israel believes it still has the upper hand when it comes to drones, but that the Iranian ones do constitute a limited threat.

“Israel has a significant lead in terms of drone capabilities by almost every parameter,” a former senior official in the defense establishment says. “But even though they don’t have the top technology, their drones can still do good and efficient work for them.”

In recent years Iran has been exporting these drones to its militias in Syria and Iraq, including Hezbollah in Lebanon. One of them, the Hamaseh, weighs 414 kilograms and can carry sensors and missiles. It can remain airborne for 11 hours, with a maximum flight distance of 200 kilometers. In 2006 the IDF intercepted a drone that Hezbollah tried to fly over Israel. It carried 30 kilograms of explosives. It is believed that Iran can deploy a drone system for offensive purposes, even if they don’t have the precise capabilities they attribute to these drones.

A prolonged stay in Syria will enable Iran to increase its threat to Israel, as well as augmenting the transfer of war materiel and forces into Syria and Lebanon…

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