Drone attack (illustration)
Drone attack (illustration)iStock

Israeli leaders are increasingly warning that the Jewish state will take more active action against Iran, and also warnng that the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) Iran develops and employs are becoming an ever-growing problem.

Below we take a closer look at the UAV problem and the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran.

Last Tuesday, Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, revealed that Iran had attempted to transfer weapons and explosive materials (TNT) to Palestinian Arab terrorists in Judea and Samaria by using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The large UAV, which originated from the T-4 base near Homs in Syria, was intercepted near the Israeli town of Beit She'an in February 2018. The plane, armed with four missiles, then exploded in mid-air over the Jordan Valley.

Gantz said there had been concrete intelligence that the Iranian UAV was heading for Samaria or Judea and indicated that UAVs are an increasing problem in the covert war against Iran.

Iran's UAVs

Iran uses UAVs not only as a "kamikaze" weapon but also to supply weapons to the many terrorist movements that the Islamic Republic supports in various parts of the Middle East.

These include Iraq, Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, but also the Palestinian Arab terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza.

Iran has a large fleet of UAVs of all types and they are basically Iran's air force, whose conventional combat aircraft date back to the Shah's era.

Its conventional warplanes are therefore no match for the modern warplanes both the Israeli air force (IAF) and the US air force have at their disposal.

UAVs are difficult to see on radar because they are often small and fly low.

In addition, the production costs of the UAVs that Iran routinely uses are very low even as they have become one of the most important weapons Iran uses in asymmetric warfare against its enemies.

Sometimes the Islamic Republic uses so-called Quadcopters, a cheap small UAV that is equipped with a small explosive charge.

However, Iran also has more advanced UAVs such as a copy of the American stealth UAV RQ-170. Iran obtained the blueprints to build a copy of the RQ-170 Sentinel when it downed an American spy plane when it flew a reconnaissance mission over Iranian territory.

The Iranian version of the Sentinel is the Shahed S-171, and this was the UAV that Israel shot down over the Beit She'an Valley in 2018.

Other clones of Israeli and American UAVs that Iran built after downing the original unmanned aircraft are the US-made Predator, the Reaper, ScanEagle5, and the Israeli-made Hermes.

The revelation about secret Iranian bases

Gantz said Iran also has two secret UAV bases near the Persian Gulf, one in the Chabahar region and one on Qashm Island.

From there, UAVs are used to attack maritime targets in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The last time Iran launched a major attack with so-called Kamikaze UAVs was on October 20, when five UAVs attacked the US military at the al-Tanf base on the Syria-Iraq border.

Located on a major arterial road connecting Iraq to Syria, the base is home to approximately 350 US military personnel and other personnel.

In that attack, only two GPS-guided UAVs within the al-Tanf base exploded and there were no casualties.

That seemed a miracle, but it was later revealed (via The New York Times) that the Americans had been tipped off about the imminent attack by Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency.

The accurate Mossad intelligence enabled the US military to evacuate al-Tanf in a timely manner, explaining why no one was injured.

The US Administration of President Joe Biden didn't immediately react to the brazen Iranian attack on al-Tanf but later slapped fresh sanctions on the members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who head the drone division of the paramilitary organization.

UAV attack on Iraqi PM's home

Iran-developed precision UAVs were also used on Nov. 7 in an attempt to assassinate Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The Iraqi Prime Minister's house was hit by a "kamikaze" UAV overnight, but the Prime Minister miraculously escaped unharmed. However, some bodyguards of al-Kadhimi were injured in the attack.

Israel and the increasing UAV threat

Israel has been dealing with UAVs supplied by Iran since 2004.

That year, a UAV piloted by Hezbollah operators flew over much of northern Israel without being fired upon.

Later, in 2011, an Iranian UAV was intercepted over the Jordan Valley. The UAV was on its way to the nuclear reactor in Dimona, Israeli military experts determined.

In total, the Israeli army has intercepted an Iranian UAV 12 times since 2004.

The last time this happened was during the 11-day-war with Hamas and PIJ in May this year. Also then, an Iranian UAV was shot down while flying over the Jordan Valley.

Hamas is also increasingly using UAVs to fight the Israeli army after engineers from the terror organization received training in manufacturing them in Lebanon as well as in Iran.

Israel, in turn, used UAVs to quell Hamas' balloon terror. This year alone, an Israeli UAV has been used more than 100 times to bring down an incendiary balloon before it could reach Israel.

The Jewish state also continues to work on an anti-UAV shield that should provide better protection against attacks by drones.

That work is being done by Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel's largest manufacturer of UAVs, missiles and other advanced weaponry.

Latest developments in the shadow war with Iran

Meanwhile, Israel's so-called “war between wars” campaign against Iran continues unabated.

More than a week ago, an unknown number of Israeli warplanes launched missiles at Iran-related targets in the Homs area of Syria. An Iranian arms transport destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon was reportedly attacked. Nine people are said to have been killed in the Israeli attack.

At the same time, a Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) exploded in the sky over the industrial area near the port city of Haifa The SAM had apparently missed its target.

The incident showed once again how tense the situation in this “war between wars” campaign has become.

Those tensions are set to rise as Israel, through Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, has said it does not feel bound by any new deal to be struck on Iran's nuclear program.

Israel reserves the right to take action in Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Bennett said.

The Israeli Prime Minister has recently made it clear that Israel will now act differently against the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.

By saying this, the Israeli PM implicated that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t done enough to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon after the Islamic Republic closed the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.

Israel had been “falling asleep” after the agreement was implemented, Bennett claimed last week.

Bennett's government has allocated an additional $1.5 billion budget to prepare for military action against Iran in the Islamic Republic itself.

Israeli experts now think that Iran has increased its drone attacks on American-and-Israel-related targets in the Persian Gulf to increase pressure on the international community ahead of a new round of talks on the nuclear weapons program of the Islamic Republic that began in Vienna today, November 29th.

Iran is careful not to use its drones directly against these targets, but instead uses its Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemenite proxies to attack Western maritime targets in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

According to Israeli intelligence estimates Iran has deployed hundreds of UAVs throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, Yemen.