Iran Now Russia’s ‘Top Military Backer’, as UAVs Used to Kill Ukrainian Civilians

Iranian drone attacks are nothing new. Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu holds up piece of Iranian UAV. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Amos Ben Gershom GPO

Russia has used Iranian-supplied unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to kill civilians in the war in Ukraine, the United States said on Friday, as Tehran has become Moscow’s top partner in enabling the Russian military to continue their war effort. “It continues to become clear that Iran has become Russia’s top military backer,” said US spokesperson Vedant Patel in comments released by the State Department. “…Since August, Iran has transferred several hundred UAVs to Russia and Russia has been using these UAVs to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and kill Ukrainian civilians. And Russia has been using Iranian UAVs to strike Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, depriving millions of Ukrainians of light, heat, and critical services.”

Accusing Russia and Iran of attacks on civilians isn’t new. In late November, US Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder—in comments to the media published on the Department of Defense website—said that Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for the Ukrainian conflict “does, again, highlight the concerning behavior, and the fact that Iran and Russia share this relationship and continue to export terror and use those systems to attack nonmilitary targets to include civilians.”

The same day as Ryder’s comments, a Senior US Defense Official was quoted in a background briefing as telling reporters that Iranian weapons are replenishing Russia to keep the Ukraine war going. “Iran is providing Russia with an alternative source of weapons as Russia’s own supplies diminish,” said the official in comments published to the Department of Defense website. Against the backdrop of Iran arming Russia, the official noted that Russia “has shown no sign of relenting in its attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.”

Iran also has experience attacking civilian targets themselves. Last week, outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz referenced the attack in November by an Iranian UAV against a commercial ship. His comments, published by Israel, noted that in the last five years Iran had “conducted at least 16 separate attacks on civilian international vessels in the Gulf and the Red Sea.”

Iranian UAVs have also been used directly against Israel. An Iranian drone laden with explosives invaded Israeli airspace in 2018.

In response to the Iranian arming of Russia, the US on Friday unleashed more sanctions on Russian entities—this time targeting “three Russia-based entities that have been at the forefront of the acquisition and usage of Iranian UAVs,” according to Patel. This includes an entity that sent personnel to Iran for UAV training.

Said Patel, “In terms of holding both regimes accountable, we continue to have a number of tools available in our tool set.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 11, 2022) 

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