The 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in a period both of paranoia in Iran and, because of the revolutionary regime’s hostage-taking and support for terrorism, a broad array of international sanctions as well. Particularly scarring from the Iranian perspective was its vulnerability during the Iran-Iraq War due to its over-dependence on foreign weaponry.
Accordingly, in the 1980s, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps laid the groundwork for an indigenous weapons program. Iran developed its own chemical weapons capability after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons against its forces, and demonstrated an impressive capability to cannibalize and modernize in order to add years of life to its aircraft. Take Iran’s F-14, for example — a platform long since retired in the United States. Nevertheless, Iran managed to keep many of its F-14s flying, modified them with new bomb racks and, just in the past year, upgraded its fleet with a new, more powerful radar system.
That indigenous weapons industry — one which will receive a major boost given how the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) disproportionately enriches the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its military industries — has been pushing full steam ahead on a number of fronts. The IRGC-Navy, for example, announced the development of a new generation of armed speedboats capable of 80 knots (twice the speed of an aircraft carrier) and has said that it is now working on a 120-knot armed boat. Earlier this year, Iranian defense websites and news portals highlighted the new, indigenous “Nour” cruise missile which the Iranian military successfully launched from both ship and shore.
Too often in the fight against terrorism, U.S. agencies work to counter the last threat but remain blind to new methods and technologies. Last week, I testified before Congress on new threats which Israel faces. Two of the most potent are Hezbollah’s declaration that it is training in underwater sabotage, something that could impact the United States directly given the presence of U.S. companies in Eastern Mediterranean gas development, but also the rapid growth in the quantity, quality, and diversity of indigenous Iranian UAVs. Iran, for example, has created not only surveillance UAVs but also suicide drones. The IRGC has not been shy in recent weeks about showing how it is now using drones over Iraq and Syria.
If the IRGC is flying drones over Syria, then they can not only strike at U.S. regional allies but also export the technology further. It would be foolish to think that established defenses are enough for the Iranian goal likely wouldn’t be to decimate a target on the ground. Rather, should they fly a single drone into the landing path of a plane heading to Tel Aviv, Amman, or Jeddah, then risk-averse airlines and insurance companies would curtail service, thus providing an economic victory.
The true legacy of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry has not been to neutralize the Iranian threat — after all, unlike with the military nuclear programs in Ukraine, South Africa, or Libya, the deal Kerry conceded to left Iran with its nuclear infrastructure largely intact — but rather to enhance the Iranian threat by enabling it to resource better its domestic military industries even as it purchases weapons from abroad. Alas, it seems that as Iran and its proxies develop new capabilities and expands their range, the U.S. response is simply to do nothing and plan for the past rather than the future.