Artillery: Iran Creates A Phantom Threat

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June 18, 2021: One aftereffect of the recent brief hostilities between Hamas and Israel was the demonstration of the effectiveness of GPS and INS guidance kits for longer range rockets that Hamas assembled, with the assistance of Iranian advisors, using easily smuggled guidance kits that make these previously unguided rockets accurate to enough to effectively hit long-range targets without having to drench them with prohibitively large numbers of unguided rockets. The Israeli Iron Dome air-defense system can still identify the rockets likely to hit a residential area and intercept. But if too many guided rockets are launched against a distant target, like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Iron Dome can be overwhelmed and too many rockets will get through to their target.

Israel also makes a compelling case for maintaining economic sanctions on Iran not just because they have continued with their nuclear weapons program, despite being prohibited by the 2015 treaty that lifted sanctions. The Iranian guided rockets pose a more immediate threat than Iranian nukes. Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian shipments of rockets, ballistic missiles and guidance kits being trucked into Syria for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran-backed militias in Syria. If enough of those shipments get through Iran can upgrade hundreds of unguided rockets already in Lebanon and create another stockpile of guided weapons in Syria. The Americans have agreed to share intelligence on Iranian efforts in this area and take joint action. This is also motivated by increasing use of these guided rockets by Iran-backed militias in Iraq against American troops as well as Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government actively opposes these Iranian efforts in Iraq because it is seen as an Iranian effort to gain control over the Iraqi government. The threat from these guided Iranian rockets is a major reason for Arab nations establishing diplomatic relations with Israel or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, increasing unofficial cooperation.

The impact of the guided rockets in the recent Hamas war would have been greater were it not for Israeli improvements in its communications and intelligence systems that made it possible to quickly pinpoint the locations of underground rocket storage sites, which are often in residential areas. The rockets are brought out of the underground shelters and launched from those same residential areas. Israel was able to locate and destroy, with guided ground penetrating bombs, over a hundred kilometers of those concrete tunnels.

Hamas had diverted most of the concrete and other building materials donated to Gaza after the 2014 war to building these tunnels rather than build new housing for Gaza residents. Those Gaza civilians noted this and now those complaints have to be addressed for any new construction material sent to Gaza. Iran is eager to help finance reconstruction in Gaza and that is another reason why Iranian efforts to get economic sanctions lifted have stalled. Israel did not send ground troops into Gaza in 2021 but have plenty of aerial photos of the recently bombed tunnels and that makes it pretty clear where all the post-2014 reconstruction aid went. Now Hamas is unlikely to get reconstruction materials unless trusted (by the donors) inspectors can account for how all the reconstruction material is used. Hamas opposes this and has a history of intimidating outside inspectors so that ploy is not going to be effective as in the past.

Israel has gotten the Americans to pay more attention to the rocket guidance kits for other reasons, because these guidance kits are also used frequently by Iran-backed Shia rebels in Yemen for attacks on Saudi Arabia, especially military bases and petroleum facilities.

There has been a growing body of hard evidence of these guidance kits. Israel provided a lot of technical help to UN assessment teams that have examined the debris found where these guided rockets were used, especially in Saudi Arabia, and confirm that the guidance kits exist and surviving components can be traced back to Iran.

Iran long maintained that they were not responsible for supplying UAVs, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to Iran-backed groups in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon for attacks on Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and anyone who opposes Iranian aggression. These weapons are built with Iranian components that are deliberately made without any visible evidence that they were manufactured in Iran. A lot of effort is put into this. But Iran sometimes uses the same unmarked components in weapons that are clearly labeled as Iranian.

Despite all those deception efforts, UN and other investigators have been collecting components from debris of Iranian (labeled or unlabeled) UAVs and missiles that functioned properly and exploded as well as some that were captured or crashed near Iranian territory. The UN and Saudi Arabia have put many of these components on public display, and the U.S. has also displayed captured Iranian arms shipments or missile components recovered from weapons that have crashed. One of the common items found in all these cases are unmarked, as in no indication of manufacturer or national origin, gyroscopes. These miniature devices are common in all manner of UAVs and missiles. Gyroscopes of the type Iran is supplying are available on the commercial market but only the model Iran denies producing is showing up in systems used by Islamic terrorists as well as systems that are clearly marked as Iranian. This was the result of Iran trying to save some money by not manufacturing a similar gyroscope clearly marked as Iranian for systems that are officially Iranian. That was a false economy there because dozens of these gyroscopes have been collected from crashed or exploded systems. There is always debris, even when a system explodes and many small components, like these gyroscopes, survive intact. Iran denounces this evidence as an American conspiracy but no one except Iran and their allies are accepting this. A growing number of these Iran-backed groups are recognized by the UN and other organizations as international terrorists.

The gyroscopes have been collected in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Afghanistan. One of the earliest examples was found in 2016 when an Iranian UAV crashed in Afghanistan and U.S. forces seized it and photographed/scrutinized the components. In later years the gyroscope kept showing up in other countries. The gyroscope is a unique design not available from any Western, Chinese or Russian manufacturer. It is of no identifiable (by markings) country but all the evidence points to Iran, especially since the mystery gyroscope shows up in UAVs that Iran proudly claims are Iranian made from Iranian components.

Some of these “unidentified” UAVs and missiles also contain other components that indicate Iranian origin even though the Iranians claim that they were produced locally by Iranian backed groups. That explanation falls apart when you look at pictures of the local product and the Iranian made model it is based on. Differences are often minimal. Some of these UAVs and missiles are built with some local materials like sheet metal but the design is clearly Iranian and key components, like the gyroscopes, are not from any commercial supplier but smuggled in by Iran. The unmarked gyroscopes have one thing in common, they are found in “locally built” systems of Iran-backed groups.

The most telling evidence comes from Iranian arms shipments captured from the smugglers who are paid to get them into Yemen or Gaza. In addition to Iranian weapons clearly marked as Iranian made, there are often quantities of Iranian components, including the mystery gyroscopes. Iran dismisses all this as an American or Israeli plot to defame Iran. Yet in Iran, the Quds Force, a special section of the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) is praised for the extensive support it provides for Iran-backed rebel and terrorist forces throughout the region. It is no secret in Iran that Quds provides technical as well as tactical and organizational help to these groups to carry out attacks using rockets, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. Israel continues to launchirstrikes against Quds Force operations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza to halt Iranian shipments of these guided weapons or components, from reaching Hezbollah stockpiles of unguided rockets in Lebanon. Iran has developed upgrade kits that make these rockets much more accurate. Those upgrade kit shipments contain more of the mystery gyroscopes.

As more and more evidence of the Iranian guided rocket threat appears, it puts the survival of the 2015 treaty in doubt. The U.S. withdrew from the treaty in 2017 after evidence of Iran continuing to develop nuclear weapons emerged. UN inspectors were turned away from sites identified as involved with nuclear weapons research and a 2018 Israeli intel operation that brought half a ton of Iranian archives on their nuclear weapons program. These were later authenticated by experts from several countries. The foreign experts agreed it was evidence that Iran had not halted its nuclear weapons efforts. This trove of evidence made it easier for the U.S. to revive economic sanctions and harder for Britain, Russia, France, China and Germany, the other signatories of the 2015 treaty to convince the Americans to lift economic sanctions. These sanctions hurt IRGC efforts to expand their operations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen and that has become another factor working against agreement to lift those sanctions.

 


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