MidEast drone wars increase; attack in Iraq, airstrikes in Yemen

Iran has normalized the drone threat in the region.

 A drone is seen during an Iranian Army exercise dubbed 'Zulfiqar 1400', in the coastal area of the Gulf of Oman, Iran, November, 2021 (photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
A drone is seen during an Iranian Army exercise dubbed 'Zulfiqar 1400', in the coastal area of the Gulf of Oman, Iran, November, 2021
(photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)

A drone attack was intercepted as it targeted US-led coalition forces in northern Iraq, according to reports over the weekend. According to reports in Iraq the drones were targeting the Harir base.

Meanwhile, France 24 reported that “the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen destroyed a communications system on Monday used for drone attacks and located near the telecoms ministry in Sanaa, it said in a statement.” Last October, reports online predicted that Iran might attack the Harir base in Iraq.

The two incidents highlight the increasing use of drones in the region and also the attempts to interdict drone attacks and strike at the centers that control them. These drone incidents are both linked to Iran because the Islamic Republic supplies drone technology to militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran is a drone pioneer in the region, having developed a drone industry since the 1980s. In the last year, Iranian drones and the technology from Iran, as well as advice Tehran provides, have reshaped the region. Hamas used new drones for the first time in May 2021, and at least one was shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome. In July, drones targeted a tanker in the Gulf of Oman and killed two people.

Drones have been used against the US Tanf Garrison and also against US forces in Erbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The US moved forces from many facilities to northern Iraq and Baghdad in 2019 and 2020 in the wake of Iran tensions and rocket attacks. 

Followers of the Houthi movement carry a mock drone during a rally held to mark the Ashura in Saada, Yemen, September 10, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/NAIF RAHMA)Followers of the Houthi movement carry a mock drone during a rally held to mark the Ashura in Saada, Yemen, September 10, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/NAIF RAHMA)

According to BBC Persian correspondent Nafiseh Kohnavard, the coalition said on Sunday that “yesterday evening, radar systems detected multiple low-flying drones, flying westward, originating from Iraq’s eastern border region. One of the systems crashed south of Tikrit, Iraq and was recovered by Iraqi Security forces” a coalition official says.

“The drone is now in custody and is being analyzed by Coalition forces,” she tweeted. The drone was similar to those used against the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This is a reference to several attacks on the UAE by Houthi drones in the last month and one attack targeting the UAE from Iraq using drones.

Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy linked to the IRGC, uses drones in Iraq. It has targeted Saudi Arabia and the UAE with drone attacks. The US claims these attacks are by “malign actors” and “pose a significant threat to Iraq’s sovereignty.” This is a way of avoiding directly blaming Iran, which is in the midst of nuclear talks in Vienna.

MEANWHILE IN Yemen, the Saudis say they struck a communication system that the Iran-backed Houthis use to control drones. This comes in the wake of the Houthis attacking Abha airport in Saudi Arabia. They allegedly used their Qasef-2 drones in the attack.

These drone attacks have become so frequent that they barely get headlines. This shows how Iran has normalized the drone threat in the region.

Drone attacks occur every week across a long arc of conflict that stretches from Syria to the Gulf of Oman and Yemen. Hezbollah has stockpiled drones and Hamas also has them. In February 2018, Iran used a drone from the T-4 base in Syria to target Israel. It also used one from Iraq in May 2021 to target Israel.

Meanwhile, it moved long-range drones to Yemen, according to January 2021 reports. These drones have a range that can reach Israel.

Numerous attacks have targeted US forces in Iraq using drones. The US has increasingly been able to down the drones. The increased abilities of countries to stop the drone attacks and target the systems that control them show that some countries are learning how to confront the Iran drone octopus.

Tehran moves drones and drone blueprints and technology to proxies in order to have plausible deniability. That means that each time a group uses drones, it may even invent a new name for the perpetrator, so that it is hard for anyone to hold them accountable. Past efforts to track the gyroscopes and engines used by drones in Yemen or by Iran in other places, have shown how Iran is linked to the drone threat across the region.