Iran’s drones have customers in the world: ex-defense minister

August 29, 2021 - 17:29

TEHRAN - Former defense minister Amir Hatami said on Saturday that Iran’s arms exports in the previous Iranian calendar year 1399 amounted twice the year before.

The year 1398 fell between March 2019-March 2020, and the year 1399 between March 2020-March 2021. 

Hatami said this took place despite all hostilities against Iran.

The former defense chief went on to say that now Iran exports arms to 42 countries, adding Iran’s drones have customers among “other countries”.

Hatami was defense minister during the second term of the Hassan Rouhani presidency.

He went on to say that during four years of his management of the ministry more than 300 products used in ground battles were produced.

Hatami made the remarks at a ceremony welcoming new Defense Minister Mohammadreza Ashtiani.

The former defense minister went on to say that “very good measures” have also been taken in the field of ballistic and cruise missiles.

“Today, we are also in a very good condition in the areas of air and electronic defense and electronic warfare.” 

On October 19, 2020, a 13-year-old UN arms embargo on Iran was lifted as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. It happened against vociferous opposition from the Trump administration. Since that date, Iran was legally allowed to export and import arms.

Then Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hailed October 19 as a “momentous day”.

Iran has been insisting that arms industry is based on defensive needs.

“A momentous day for the international community, which — in defiance of malign U.S. efforts—has protected UNSC Res. 2231 and JCPOA,” Zarif tweeted on Sunday, referring to the 2015 agreement.

According to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which confirmed the JCPOA – the official name for the nuclear deal, arms embargo against Iran ended last year.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry also said in a statement on October 19 that “as of today, the Islamic Republic of Iran may procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions and solely based on its defensive needs.”

The Foreign Ministry added Iran can now “export defensive armaments based on its own policies.” 

The U.S. was overwhelmingly defeated by other UN Security Council members when it attempted to extend the arms embargo in August. It subsequently declared a “snapback” of nearly all UN sanctions on Iran against the opposition of the 2015 deal’s European, Russian and Chinese signatories, who called the move void. 

For the vast majority of the Security Council, lifting the embargo is crucial to the Iranian nuclear deal’s survival, says RUSI’s Tabrizi.

“It was part of the (2015 Iran nuclear) agreement since the beginning, and not meeting their obligations would mean that the agreement collapses,” Tabrizi told CNBC. “So there is a risk that Iran comes out of the agreement completely.”  

The embargo’s expiration allowed Iran to buy major conventional weapons systems, including everything from battle tanks and large-caliber artillery to combat aircraft and warships, and perhaps most importantly, missiles and missile launchers — the latter group already highly developed indigenously in Iran. 

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., has acknowledged that Iran has succeeded to indigenize military industry. 

“With a likely emphasis on homeland defense and long-range strike capability,” Iran will likely pursue more selective modernization, Taleblu said. 

According to CNBC, Iran’s specialty is asymmetric warfare, honed under years of sanctions with the help of reverse engineering to replicate other countries’ missiles and smaller arms — and in some cases, make them better. 

Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, predicts this capability will only get stronger.

“What we’re worried about is not so much the drones themselves, but the pieces on them, so things like higher-quality engines for the units and optical lenses to improve targeting,” she said during a webinar hosted by Washington-based think tank AGSIW.  

“What Iran has shown is that even if they buy a small number of weapons, within 20 years they will produce a variant of that which in some instances is even better than what they bought,” Dave DesRoches, an associate professor and senior military fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., said during the same webinar. 

“So as they make incremental improvements, as they reverse engineer new technologies, integrate new imported motors, they’re getting much more quickly operational, lethal and reproducible capability.”

Initial purchases for Iran might be solid-fuel rocket motors, guidance systems, optical jammers that could counter drones or anti-tank missiles, and small arms like upgraded anti-tank guided missiles, DesRoches said, with China and former Soviet states as key sellers.