Iran’s Military Support For Terror Groups Still In Full Swing Despite Weapons Transfers To Russia

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Iran’s military and financial support for rebel Houthis in Yemen has not slowed down despite Tehran increasing weapons transfers to Russia for use against Ukraine, defense officials said Monday.
  • Continuing Iranian belligerence underpins recent efforts between the Department of Defense (DOD) and Arab states to build an integrated air defense and maritime security network.
  • “There has been no other moment in time in which the prospect for meaningful integration is more real than today,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East Dana Stroul said.

Iran’s support for proxies in the Middle East have not slowed down despite escalating weapons transfers to Russia in recent months, defense officials said Monday.

Iran has smuggled hundreds of drones into Russia to use in its war against Ukraine, targeting both Ukrainian military positions and civil energy infrastructure in an attempt to weaken the entire country, CNN reported. At the same time, Tehran’s ongoing transfers of weapons and other goods to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who fought against the recognized government and a global coalition of forces that are adhering to an unofficial truce, have not abated and continue to threaten the region, Department of Defense (DOD) officials said at a press call Monday.

“We have seen no change in Iranian willingness or activity to transfer weapons to Houthis despite their increasing military cooperation with Russia for the war in Ukraine,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East Dana Stroul said. (RELATED: Biden Admin Investigating How US Tech Wound Up In Iranian Suicide Drones Hitting Ukraine)

Iran has evaded international sanctions against Russia, supplying Moscow with simple Shahed-line drones that explode on impact and larger Mojaher-6 drones capable of dropping bombs on Ukrainian positions and returning to base intact, The Guardian reported.

Russia also reportedly sought to import ballistic missiles from Iran in exchange for other forms of military support, NBC News reported, but so far no evidence has emerged that such transfers took place.

Moscow could also be providing Tehran with attack helicopters and air defense systems, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in December. The two countries “are considering the establishment of a joint production line for lethal drones in Russia,” he added.

Iran’s support for Russia featured in working group conversations between Department of Defense (DOD) officials and and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday morning, Stroul said.

At the climax of conversations Monday, leaders emerged with next steps in building an integrated regional air defense network and increasing maritime security, Stroul and the top officials for U.S. Naval and Air Forces in the Middle East, said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will participate in working group meetings with partners, and following that a meeting of senior State Department officials with regional counterparts focused on counterterrorism, Stroul explained.

“There has been no other moment in time in which the prospect for meaningful integration is more real than today,” said Stroul. GCC members, which include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the U.A.E., Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, have a “shared assessment” of the threats facing the region, she added.

Iran featured at the top of that list of threats, including its use of unmanned drones in attacks and funneling of weapons and funds to militia groups that target U.S. and partner forces, according to Stroul.

DOD continues to track and intercept weapons transfers to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said at the briefing Monday.

In the last two months, the Navy has disrupted five Iranian shiploads of goods headed for Yemen, seizing a total of roughly 5,000 weapons, 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, 7,000 proximity fuses, 2,000 kilograms of propellant and $60 million in illegal drugs, Cooper said.

Calls for an integrated air deterrence network have deepened since the Houthis struck Saudi Arabian oil facilities in 2019 and reportedly launched ballistic missiles at the U.A.E. President Joe Biden supported the effort on a trip to the Middle East in July, where he met separately with Israeli and Saudi leaders amid growing concern about Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror networks.

Plans underway for a regional defense network would hinge around the ability to deploy unmanned systems to monitor for incoming missile and drone threats, Air Forces Central Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Clark Quinn said Monday. First, however, the participants must figure out how to let each countries’ systems, which run on independent classified networks, communicate with one another and remain resilient against potential cyber incursions.

Stroul hinted at the possibility that Israel, which operates the most advanced air defense systems and has learned to defend against attacks from Iran and Iranian-backed militias, could join the regional network. Political obstacles remain, she added.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly negotiated with Israel to obtain a network of sensors that will combat the potential missile threat from Iran, Breaking Defense reported in June. A shared communications network would theoretically allow participating states to alert others when incoming missiles trigger the sensors, Breaking Defense reported, citing Israeli officials.

Earlier that month, Israel’s former defense minister unilaterally announced a planned regional security cooperation agreement in a June 20 speech, saying Israel had already employed the network to intercept Iranian missile attacks, Reuters reported.

“Over the past year I have been leading an extensive programme, together with my partners at the Pentagon and in the U.S. administration, that will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region,” Gantz said, according to Reuters.

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