Sanctions, blockade insufficient against Iran UAVs: National Interest
The United States imposing sanctions on Iran is not enough to curb its drone program as Tehran has repeatedly proven to be perfectly capable of overcoming the sanctions.
Under US sanctions since December 2013, the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO) was sanctioned once again in early January 2023 after the body responsible for designing and manufacturing drones for Iran since its foundation at the hands of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) in 1985 was reportedly found culpable for Russia using the Mohajer-6 drones in Ukraine amid the ongoing war.
In addition to sanctioning the board members of the IAIO, the United States might resort to further sanctioning officials in the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Corporation (HESA), which produces the Shahed-136 drones also used by Russia alongside the Mohajer-6s in Ukraine, despite the institution having been under US, UK, and EU sanctions for almost a decade as well.
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Washington has had Iran's military corporations and production lines under severe sanctions for years at this point, with organizations such as IAIO, HESA, Fajr Aviation Composite Industries (FACI), and the Iran Aircraft Industries (IACI) residing under strict punitive measures. The US Treasury's sanctions, however, did not even remotely prevent Iran's aerospace sector from making strides, be it on a technological or innovative level, with this vital sector expanding to limits thought to be impossible in very short amounts of time.
Despite heavy sanctions from the US and its Western allies, Iran became a force to be reckoned with when it came to its drone capabilities, even sharing its expertise with allies thought to be far more advanced technologically through prowess that shocked its friends and foes.
"With over thirty-three models, Iran’s highly developed, sophisticated military drone complex comprises one of the four pillars of its security strategy and force structure," wrote columnists Eric Lob and Edward Riehle in the National Interest. According to the two journalists, the other three pillars include Tehran's "missile technology, [so-called] proxy forces, and cyber warfare."
According to the magazine, after Iran acknowledged that it could not compete with the regional and international air forces in the region with their high-tech and high-end fighters and bombers, it worked on its drone program, which gave it an edge over its foes in the international arena.
Proven to be highly reliable on the battlefield at an extremely low price compared to their Western counterparts, Iran's drones helped the Islamic Republic realize various political tools all the while giving it a better reputation when it came to its international partners, with promises from Russia to give Tehran multiple Su-35 fighter jets by March.
The aforementioned political tools gained due to Iran's sheer commitment to its drone program include stronger alliances, better prestige, and an influence in warfare, all the while the IR is turning a profit and expanding its power.
The National Interest said Iran has delivered drones to various nations all over the world, such as "Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, [...] Ethiopia, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela", noting that these transactions were made possible due to the expiration of the UN arms embargo back in 2020, which saw Iran less than two later opening its first offshore UAV production plant - a drone factory in Tajikistan.
However, despite the Western allegations that Iran supplied Russia with drones in the midst of the war, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian revealed that Tehran gave a small batch of drones to Russia, but it was before the Ukraine war broke out.
"We supplied Russia with a limited number of drones months before the war in Ukraine," the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Amir-Abdollahian as saying in November.
The top Iranian diplomat went on to remind how Tehran requested that Kiev provide it with proof and documentation of Moscow's use of Iranian UAVs.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during an online briefing late last year that he submitted a proposal to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to formally break off diplomatic ties with Tehran.
During the briefing, Kuleba accused Iran of having supplied weapons to Russia despite having no evidence to support his claims, and so did Zelensky before him.
Russia's usage of Iranian drones has prompted Ukraine's allies to come together in various ways to try and help Kiev, with Turkey and the United States sending in drones and the Israeli occupation providing Kiev with intelligence on the Iranian drones being used in Ukraine, cementing Iran's capabilities when it came to its drone program.
Read next: 'Israel' pressured to deliver millions in strategic materials to Kiev
The magazine noted that Iran did not supply Russia with its long-range drones and missiles, which it described as "more lethal", citing the Islamic Republic's Arash-2 suicide drone and the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missile.
However, it noted that Iran was not doing so in order to avert being subjected to sanctions under UN Security Council resolution 2231, a key provision of which will expire in October.
The magazine went on to highlight how the United States wanted to resort to various ways to try and undermine Iran's UAV capabilities, such as enforcing export controls and pressuring private firms to disrupt Iran's technological supply chain, plans that were made public in the wake of reports coming out about Russia using the Shahed-136 UAVs in Ukraine and that these drones had British and American components.
These components, the magazine said, "demonstrate [Iran's] uncanny ability to bypass sanctions."
"It is unlikely that more export controls and corporate pressure will significantly reduce Iran’s access to these components," it further noted, underlining the historic failure of western sanctions on Iran, especially now that there is proof that foreign components were already integrated into Iran's drone program, and though the US could sanction any corporations selling dual or multi-use tech to Iran, it cannot stop the independent resellers of such technology.
State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters a few months ago that "Anyone doing business with Iran that could have any link to UAVs or ballistic missile developments or the flow of arms from Iran to Russia should be very careful and do their due diligence -- the US will not hesitate to use sanctions or take actions against perpetrators."
Moreover, the National Interest gave the example of Turkey, which circumvented a US export ban on drone components through a US subsidiary of an American company, while a Canadian ban pushed Ankara to look more into homegrown drone components, which would be highly beneficial in the long run.
It also touched on Iran's capabilities in the fields of science and technology, highlighting how its high human capital would allow accelerated localized production of drone components with the help of scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians, proclaimed as first-rate, who graduated from the Sharif University of Technology.
Finally, the magazine saw that the US should look into more innovative ways to try and coerce Iran into halting its drone program, one that would break the traditional cycle of imposing sanctions and Iranian circumvention; one where "punitive economic and financial measures would be part of a broader policy toolkit to achieve a whole-of-government support effect."