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Iranian words and deeds raise the regional stakes

15th August 2021 - 12:00 GMT | by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv


Image from video broadcast by Iranian Al-Alam TV, showing a Shahed-136 kamikaze UAV about to hit a test target in April 2021. (Photo: Al-Alam)

The US officially points the finger at Tehran after the 30 July UAV attack on a vessel in the Gulf of Oman, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps continues to ratchet tensions with a grandiose new claim.

The deadly attack on the tanker MV Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman on 30 July, which killed two people, has renewed attention on the risks posed to civilian shipping by Iranian UAVs.

Fingers were pointed at Iran after the attack, with Israeli sources telling Shephard that they believe a delta-wing Shahed-136 armed UAV was used to hit the bridge of Mercer Street.

Iranian involvement was noted by US Central Command (CENTCOM) in a presentation on 6 August.

Based on an investigation of debris from the UAV, CENTCOM concluded that the aircraft was produced in Iran — confirming suspicions.

A vertical stabiliser and internal components of the UAV were retrieved from the scene on Mercer Street; citing US investigators, CENTCOM concluded that these ‘were nearly identical to previously-collected examples from Iranian one-way attack UAVs’.

This and other evidence was shared live with UK explosives experts and virtually with Israeli explosives experts.

‘Both partners concurred with the US findings,’ CENTCOM noted.

Evidence of the UAV blast on Mercer Street. (Photo: CENTCOM)

Iran has displayed and tested delta-wing kamikaze UAVs of various sizes in recent years.

Little is known about the Shahed-136, although the delta-wing UAV was shown being tested in a video released by an IRGC-affiliated television station in May 2021. Israeli sources told Shephard that the UAV has a range of about 2,100km.

Concerns from Israeli, US and other Western intelligence officials about an escalating danger to shipping in the Gulf reflect broader worries that Iran is flooding its proxies in the region — Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — with armed UAVs.

Meanwhile, the Iranian state-run Tasnim News Agency in late June quoted a boast from Gen Hossein Salami, head of the  Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), that Iran now has UAVs with a range of 7,000km.

This would put most of Europe, India and even China within range of the IRGC.

‘They [the new UAVs] can fly, return home, and land wherever they are planned to,’ Salami said at the Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences in Tehran.

In the absence of solid evidence, establishing the truth behind these claims is very difficult — but it is worth noting that UN analysis of UAVs used by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Yemen Civil War concluded that these aircraft have a far shorter range of 1,500km.

However, the US and Israel remain anxious about the direction of travel from Iran. It may be more than mere coincidence that the US struck two pro-Iranian militia targets near the Iraq-Syria border a few hours after Salami’s statement. 

Arie Egozi


Arie Egozi

Born in Israel, Arie Egozi served in the IDF and holds a political science and …

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