- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Iranian military on Tuesday launched a massive series of “drone combat wargames” and boasted that its new generation of aircraft — including ominous “suicide drones” — will give Tehran a battlefield edge over its enemies.

The exercises, which include hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operating across the country, come amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and they mark the latest in a string of recent provocations and direct threats aimed at Washington. Iranian military leaders also seemed to deliver new threats toward foes in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, claiming that their suicide drones are capable of easily striking targets deep inside enemy territory.

“Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the able and most powerful countries in the field of drone production,” said Adm. Mahmoud Mousavi, the Iranian Army’s deputy chief of operations.

“UAV combat operations including air interception and destruction of aerial targets using air-to-air missiles, destruction of ground targets using bombs and pinpoint missiles, as well as widespread use of suicide drones, are among the measures that will be carried out in the operational part of this exercise,” he said, as quoted by the country’s Fars News Agency. “The flight of naval drones from a vessel in southern waters of the country, long-range flight of pinpointing suicide drones to destroy vital targets in the depths of enemy’s soil will be one of the drone combat exercise plans.”

Iran’s drone capabilities are no match for those of the U.S., but Tehran’s UAV fleet has proved to be one of the most effective in the region. Iran has employed drones to attack oil fields in Saudi Arabia, for example, and Iranian drone swarms also reportedly have shadowed U.S. warships moving through the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. and Iran already have directly targeted one another’s drones. In June 2019, Iran shot down a U.S. drone using a surface-to-air missile.

A month later, the U.S. military shot down an Iranian UAV over the Strait of Hormuz.

For Iran, this week’s drone exercise is about more than just showcasing UAV technology. It’s also the latest move in what seems to be a deliberate attempt to stoke tensions with the U.S. and much of the world.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Monday seized a South Korean oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, and the same day top Iranian officials declared that they’ll no longer abide by key uranium enrichment limits laid out in a landmark international nuclear agreement.

All of those developments coincide with the one-year anniversary of a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force unit. American military and intelligence officials have warned of potential Iranian strikes against U.S. personnel in the Middle East in connection with that anniversary, though so far there have been no major violent incidents.

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