Iranians Are Using Ukraine as a ‘Testing Ground’: Report

An Israeli brigadier general charges that Iranians ‘will return differently from Ukraine to the Israeli battlefield. They are preparing for war.’

Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, file
An undated photograph shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, file

A new report sounds an alarm on Iran’s incipient strategic entrenchment in Russian-occupied Crimea, with a claim that Tehran is in effect using Ukraine as a staging ground to update its terrorist playbook in the Middle East. In a wide-ranging interview with Israel’s Walla News about emerging aerial threats, an Israeli brigadier general, Zvika Haimovich, said “the Iranians will turn Ukraine into a testing ground” and “will return differently from Ukraine to the Israeli battlefield. They are preparing for war.”

The remarks follow multiple recent reports that Iran has already deployed an unspecified number of military experts to Russia-occupied Crimea in order to assist Russian forces in their ongoing efforts to launch drone strikes on civilian targets throughout Ukraine. The White House national security spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters last week that Tehran “is now directly engaged on the ground, and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.”

Mr. Kirby also said that Washington would “pursue all means” to “expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people.” Furthermore, according to Ukrinform, official sources including President Zelensky say that despite the damage the drones are causing, namely to energy infrastructure, up to 85 percent of the attacks are presently being intercepted. With every day of conflict, though, Iranians are fortifying a different kind of weapon: experience. 

The specifications of the Iranian-made drones, nicknamed kamikaze drones because they are destroyed when used in attacks, are hardly a secret: unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, that go by the Iranian moniker of Shahed 131 and Shahed 136 drones. They are estimated to cost less than $20,000 per unit and have been launched in clusters of five to ten, but Tehran could have more technical tricks in store. 

“The Iranians have multi-barrel launchers: multi-drones that know how to launch 20 drones at the same time from one launcher,” General Haimovich told Walla’s defense analyst, Amir Bohbot, adding that “they are developing a swarm system of drones [that] tomorrow  will go to Hezbollah,  or threaten from Iraq and Syria.”

Iran’s shuttling of drone experts from its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to Crimea to help Russia may be for commercial interests in the short term, and even modifications to the drone arsenal with the goal of enhancing strike lethality could be seen in that light. Yet considering that Ukraine is no foe of Iran, the picture darkens considerably. 

The Iranian regime’s bellicose views of Israel are no secret and Tehran and Jerusalem have been engaged in a shadow war for years.  Now, sanctioned or not, they are “learning how to operate and gain skill, and they will perfect systems,” General Haimovich said. “If we do not understand this, we will meet here a much more upgraded and sophisticated Iranian threat.”

Evoking the Iranian-backed attack by Houthi militants on facilities of the Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco in March 2021, in which UAVs and cruise missiles were used, the Israeli general added that “the events need to be connected. That’s why nothing in Ukraine surprised me: We have been preparing for this since 2015.”

That preparation has likely intensified since 2020. General Haimovich claimed that in the last two years, the Iranians have tried to infiltrate Israel with drones launched from very distant destinations. In a roundabout way, they could be using some of that experience in the field to help their Russian friends. In the meantime, the airspace in general is getting more cluttered. Speaking of the skies over Israel, he noted that the crowding comes “not only from enemy vehicles but also with our systems, and among all these we have to identify what is the enemy’s and what is ours. We will see more cruise missiles and more drones. It is a completely different aerial dimension.”

For now, to what extent Moscow intends to deepen its military cooperation with the mullahs is unknown. What is more clear is that today it is Ukraine that is on the frontlines and the more suicide drones its military shoots down, the more Tehran looks poised to supply — and for different kinds of profit. From a distance, Jerusalem watches and warns. 

“Whoever in the next war is more precise, more connected,  and multi-armed will win,” General Haimovich stated, adding without specifics: “It will happen soon.”


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