Russia, Iran And 'Undetectable' Drones: The Impact On The Middle East

Russia, Iran And 'Undetectable' Drones: The Impact On The Middle East
The Russian attack on Ukraine has got the attention of everyone from the Global South to the North. The aim was to halt Kyiv’s alleged atrocities in eastern Ukraine along with demilitarising Ukraine and ending the imminent threat of a NATO foothold at the doorstep of Russia (which could happen if the Western alliance were to make Ukraine a part of NATO).

Russia cannot afford to have a NATO state right at its borders. This could challenge Russia’s security. As Mearshreimer stated, the conflict did not start in February 2022, and reminded his audience of the NATO summit of 2008 where it was publicly acknowledged that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of NATO at some point; a threat Russia warned of earlier.

On 24 February, Russia started military actions towards what they described as the necessary steps to stop the atrocities in the Donbass region, eastern Ukraine, where the regime allegedly after the 2014 shift of power was attacking a population that did not accept Kyiv’s authority. Russia has since then recognised the independence of these regions and then annexed them. However, the almost nine-month-long period of the invasion has reportedly resulted in losses and shortages of military personnel and equipment. To fill the gap, according to Washington, Russia has bought and used ‘Shahed-136’ Iranian-made suicide drones. These are being described as practically undetectable. Additionally, Ukraine has claimed that the Russians are also trying to acquire Zolfaghar and Fateh-110 series Short Range Ballistic Missiles.


Why drones?

UAVs help Russia hit important targets with precision in Ukraine, including its capital Kyiv, without losing any human lives or other heavy military equipment, because so far Russia has not been able to control the capital. These drones allegedly were also supplied to the Ansar Allah of Yemen, aka the Houthis.

The Houthis have targeted Saudi Arabia for involvement in Yemen’s internal matters, and for starting a war which, according to the UN, has resulted in the deaths of 233,000 and the destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure.

The Houthis successfully hit important sites such as Aramco. The weapons allegedly used against Aramco and other facilities were locally produced versions of original Iranian Shahed-136 drones, which reportedly Russia is using in Ukraine.

The reason that the Russians might have bought these drones is that they have a long range of 200 km, and are reasonably undetectable, precise and proven weapons. They have a record of breaching Saudi Arabia’s air defences and hitting some of its vital facilities.

Additionally, the other weapons Russia is interested in buying are the Zolfaghar and Fateh-110 series SRBMs. The Zolfaghar is an Iranian road-mobile, single-stage, solid-propelled SRBM named after the sword of Ali ibn Abi Talib (A.S.) with an operational range of 700km. Whereas the Fateh-110 SRBM is also a solid-propelled, surface-to-surface missile. It was originally produced with a range of 200km when Iran test-fired this for the first time in 2002. Later, in the second test fire., the range was increased to 250km, and 300km in the third test.

Iran has used Yemen as a testing ground for its weapons including ballistic missiles, UAVs etc. This has not just effectively helped Ansar Allah counter Saudi Arabia but also proven the  precision of Iranian homemade weapons. Russia’s interest in these weapons only shows that sanctions, maximum pressure policy has done nothing but helped the Iran become self-reliant and focused on its domestic industry to fulfill its all requirements, including military.

How west see the situation?

According to a report published by Reuters, the Western bloc blames Iran for violating the UNSC resolution which prohibits Iran from acquiring or selling any military equipment. However, in the same report, Iranian diplomats rejected assertions by Western officials that such transfers breach a 2015 UNSC resolution. Iranians say that the arms embargo on Iran expired in 2020, hence, the sale of drones to Russia is not in violation of the UNSC 2015 resolution.

Moreover, this alleged Iranian involvement will also affect the ongoing nuclear deal negotiations between Iran and P5+1. The deal might have been signed if the Ukraine war had not happened. The USA and EU will most likely continue imposing sanctions on Iranian military and economic activity. Recently, in a later by US congressman Michael McCaul, a top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “The Biden administration has failed to make full use of its authorities to deter, degrade, and prohibit Iranian arms transfer.” This was followed by a demand for more sanctions on Iranian cargo and those entities who help Iran in refuelling, repairing, or any other kind of assistance for Iranian cargo planes.


How would this affect politics in the Middle East?

These developments and increasing political and military relations between Iran and Russia will eventually reshape Middle Eastern politics. Recently, Israel was reportedly going to share its weapons with Ukraine to fight Russia. In this report, former Russian PM Medvedev was quoted on on 24 October 2022, as saying “Israel appears to be getting ready to supply weapons to the Kyiv regime. A very reckless move. It would destroy all bilateral relations between our countries.”

After the Russian statement, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz ruled out any such possibility. If Israel, at any point, supplies Israeli arms to Ukraine, Israel might see its actions in Syria disturbed by Russian involvement as so far Israel has enjoyed a sort of freedom for attacking Iranian cargoes and supplies in Syria.

Moreover, Iran’s help to Russia in its adventure in Ukraine comes at a very crucial time: when Russia is reportedly facing shortages and isolation at the international level. In such a context, this help means a lot. This will result in more coordination, cooperation, and support of the Russian Federation for Iran in the Middle East region, especially Syria. Even if Israel restricts the shipping of its defence equipment such as the Iron Dome system to Ukraine, the relationship between Russia and Iran after the Ukraine war will have severe implications for Israel.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, despite these sanctions and isolation attempts by the USA and Israel, is emerging as a force with enough power to sustain a great deal of political and military pressure from regional actors.

The author studies International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. His focus is on proxy wars, conflicts and aspirations for hegemony by international and regional powers in the Middle East region. Contact: