Putin trading nuclear bomb secrets for Iran’s drones – don’t bet against it

Iran and its ageing theocracy is the enemy of the free world – supplying arms to Putin, Hamas, and Hezbollah. She is not doing it for nothing, so could this pact with the devil be how Tehran finally develops its own nukes? Asks Lt Col Stuart Crawford.to prop up his war?

As tensions increase in the Middle East while the Israel-Gaza war rages, the future actions of one country are on everybody’s lips. No, not the USA, but its arch-enemy Iran, the pariah state which seems to have done everything in its power to make the rest of the world hate it.

Which, with the exception of a few oddballs, most international states do. Perhaps “hate” is the wrong word, so let’s substitute “strongly dislike and disapprove of” instead, but you get the picture. Iran has few friends and many adversaries.

Why? Well, let’s look first at Iran’s involvement in various parts of the region. First the current imbroglio in Gaza, where Israel faces threats on two fronts; in the north from Hezbollah in South Lebanon, and in Gaza itself from Hamas.

Iran is a backer of both Hamas and Hezbollah, supplying weaponry to them and coordinating training with support from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Hamas and Hezbollah don’t take any significant military decisions on their own without explicit prior agreement from Iran.

We should note that to date Hamas and Hezbollah have never been involved in a war on two fronts against Israel. This is because Iran does not regard such a scenario lightly; a regional war in the Middle East is in none of their interests at the present time.

So what we are left with are carefully calculated attacks by Hezbollah on areas in northern Israel. These attacks have mainly been on military targets and disputed territories that Hezbollah regards as Lebanese but are occupied by Israel. They are designed to both distract Israeli efforts away from Gaza but not diminish the primacy of Hamas in the current conflict.

Closely aligned with Iranian influence and involvement against Israel is their support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen. A state of full-scale civil war has existed in Yemen since 2014 although the roots of the confrontation go back beyond that. Iran backs the rebels and Saudi Arabia backs the Yemeni government, and the conflict fuels the instability in the region.

The Houthis have made extensive use of aerial drones against their declared enemies, and of course these drones are mainly supplied by Iran. Most recently the US Arleigh Burke class anti-missile destroyer USS Carney, stationed in the northern Red Sea, intercepted and destroyed a number of Iranian-supplied, Houthi-launched cruise missiles and armed drones which appeared to be targeted at Israel.

Then we should consider Iran’s support of Russia during the ongoing Russo-Ukraine war.

Much of Russia’s attack drone arsenal has been supplied by Iran, most notably the Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drone which has seen extensive use against Ukraine. It is now known that by early this year Tehran and Moscow had developed plans to produce some 6,000 Iranian models at a new facility constructed in Russia.

By December last year Iran had become Russia’s “top military backer,” according to the US National Security Council, which claimed that Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support in exchange. Moscow may also have provided Tehran with helicopters and air defence systems, beginning this year. Iranian pilots also reportedly started training in Russia to fly the Sukhoi Su-35, an advanced fighter jet, as long ago as the spring of 2022.

Against this background, we can perhaps speculate, given the international sanctions on Iranian nuclear energy development – and, let’s be honest, nuclear weapon development – whether Iran might well be pressing Russian for transfer of nuclear technology and knowledge as part of the quid pro quo. Who knows?

Finally, for our purposes here at the moment, we should remind ourselves of the continuing Iranian shenanigans in the Strait of Hormuz, where 25 percent of the world’s daily oil supply transits through international waters but close to Iran’s coastline.

Here Iran’s IRGC has been making a nuisance of itself for years, harassing and in some cases hijacking international shipping in a show of strength.

This has led to shipping being escorted and protected by warships of the Royal Navy and US Navy. The IRGC naval arm continues to play an irritating game of chicken with both western navies but no major incident has resulted yet.

All of this points to Iran being the major disruptor and malevolent actor in the region. It regards the USA as “the Great Satan” and has vowed to wipe Israel off the map of the Middle East.

Which suggests to me, as I have written oftentimes before, that at some point the USA and its allies will have to deal with Iran for once and for all. Whether it will be through robust diplomacy, fomenting and supporting internal insurrection, or direct military action – or a combination of all three – is a matter of conjecture.

The time might be coming soon. There are indications that the Iranian people are tired of living under a repressive theocracy and long for a more secular government. At some point the festering boil that is Iran will have to be lanced.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

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