Sale of Iranian UAS to Russia: A Game-Changer for the Whole Region and for U.S Foreign Policy
(Source: special to Defense-Aerospace.com; posted July 28, 2022)

By Timothy Arsh
Despite the Biden Administration's efforts to compartmentalize the theatres of operation (Russia/Gulf/China) and find tailored solutions to each of them, the geopolitics of its adversaries catches up with it, extending the domain of the European conflict to the old Gulf ones. In other words: there is no longer a solution of continuity between theatres, but a strategic continuum between regional conflicts, which surprises only the Biden Administration.

The Return of a global Containment policy: end of Blinken’s strategy, end of American Blinkers

The two main regional players, Iran and Israel, have been already conducting an active regional policy for a long time, and never walled-up their strategic horizons: for both, war has no borders and no limits.

Iran’s proxy strategy has proven to be efficient and deeply destabilizing. Its influence is particularly visible in five countries, encircling Israel and the Gulf states: Lebanon (Hezbollah, a state within a state), Bahrain (70% of population is Shiite), Yemen (Houthis), Iraq and of course Syria, especially since the return of the most of the Russian expeditionary force.

The other regional player, Israel, has always adopted a world-wide strategy to offset its lack of allies and of territorial strategic depth. Europe, Africa, South America and of course Middle East and the Gulf.

But for Washington, which has carefully decided to stay away from the Gulf, the sale of Iranian drones to Russia is a brutal return to reality. The Biden team is thus forced to return to a global doctrine of containment of the axis of evil, from Russia to China via Iran, which is precisely what it wanted to avoid.

When U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tells the press that Iran is preparing to send hundreds of armed drones to Russia, it is actually the first implicit acknowledgment that the battlefield is no longer regional, but global….something that intelligence services knew for decades.

Unveiling the UAS deal between Iran and Russia, just before Mr. Biden’s trip to the region, also sends a clear political message: Israel and Saudi Arabia must now adopt a harder stance with Russia. Both countries, for very different reasons, had, so far, no interest in aligning themselves with the Anglo-Saxon anti-Russian obsession: they have one now and the best.

The drone: game changer beyond borders and regimes

The Iranian drone threat is indeed as scary in the Gulf as the threat of the Turkish TB2 is in Ukraine, giving this weapon system the ability to change military doctrines and political lines more than any other one (deterrence aside): the Iranian drones will thus cement the relationship between Israel and the Arab countries of the region more surely than the Abraham Accords.

No need to confirm that the Iranian drone threat is real, precise and constantly improving, as evidenced by the attacks of September 14, 2019 (swarm flight) against the Aramco facilities in Arabia; those of January 27 in the UAE against tankers in Musaffah; , and recently the flight of three Hezbollah drones near the (disputed) Israeli Kamish gas field.

An asymmetric weapon by definition, where a system costing several million dollars can be easily destroyed by an improved toy costing just hundreds, the drone was, initially, the very tool of Israel.

Sales to Russia and Turkey have generated copies and upgraded models. But more than Israel and like Turkey, Iran has truly established “a drone geopolitics”, consolidating its regional hold by and with this weapon. Not only does it design and produce new types (more enduring, better armed, better protected) but it exports them (to its proxies who use them): very recently, Hezbollah in the Israeli offshore gas field of Kamish, in the disputed area between Israel and Lebanon) and it produces it abroad (the factory in Tajikistan is in production since 2017).

Despite permanent Western surveillance which leads to some interceptions (often publicized as recently), Iran succeeds every day in circulating men and materials in the regions it controls, maintaining a strike capacity which is not more regional but now extends to the eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and part of the Indian Ocean. General Gantz's recent speech in the Knesset, describing Iran's encirclement of the Gulf countries and Israel, gave a particularly precise picture of the levers of deterrence available to Tehran, even without detaining a nuclear bomb.

It is therefore not surprising that in recent weeks the Saudis have officially asked the Israeli Ministry of Defence to approve the sale of various drones, radar systems, advanced warning and anti-drones’ systems and ground-to-air defence systems.

It is also not surprising to learn that Israeli officials have visited the Kingdom to discuss potential agreements for surface-to-air systems without American components (medium-range Barak-8; short-range Spyder): the two States want to keep their little secrets.

It is therefore not surprising that the so-called Middle East Air Defence (MEAD) alliance was formed empirically (with common early warning network) under an initiative of Israel and the UAE.

Only the Biden Administration did not want to see the link between all these theatres of operations.

The Iranian drone gives it the opportunity of freeing itself from initial ideological blinders and of realizing the dream of the American deep state: the continuum between all areas of conflict, which the best policy of domination possible.

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