On 10th July, RUSI published a Commentary saying that unmanned air vehicles (UAV) are fast becoming a major feature of security in the Middle East. It says that recent UAV strikes against Saudi infrastructure or the shooting down of a US drone in the Persian Gulf region point to the Middle East’s role as the globe’s thriving lethal laboratory in which UAV technology, in contravention of relevant arms control measures, is evolving and maturing rapidly under combat conditions. It lists a few examples of their use since the start of 2018 –
- January 2018 – first recorded and tactically effective swarm drone attack, in Syria;
- January 2018 – Turkey claimed its UAV neutralised 1,129 Kurdish fighters;
- March 2018 – Chinese-made UAV used to kill a key moderate prior to Yemen UN talks;
- Various UAV incursions into Israel and strikes on Iranian Syrian drone infrastructure;
- Regional UAV forces operating from 2018 in support of various Libyan proxies; and
- Up to May 2019 – Houthi UAV operations against military and civilian and what may be described as economic targets, such as oil installations near Riyadh.
It also comments on the ingenuity of non-state actors, such as Daesh/ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Hizbullah and Hamas, to devise UAV for propaganda or even military value – as such basic and generic drones can trigger resource-intensive defensive measures and can help mask an attacker’s identity.
It concludes that the failure to prevent the proliferation of UAV in the Middle Eastern region, beyond the scope of multilateral agreements and intent, poses many questions and is a timely reminder about a divided international community’s inconsistent record of controlling the spread of emerging lethal technologies. In time, it says, this may prove calamitous.
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