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Iran’s missiles are keeping the Russian invasion of Ukraine alive

Ukraine provides a testing ground for Iranian weapons that could be used in a future attack against Israel.

Iranian military missiles, long-range, short-range and satellite missiles on display at a military museum in Tehran. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.
Iranian military missiles, long-range, short-range and satellite missiles on display at a military museum in Tehran. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.
Ioannis E. Kotoulas

With his invasion of Ukraine stalled and the Ukrainians liberating as much as half the territory seized by Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin is turning to Iran to procure missiles to continue Russia’s campaign against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.

Russia reportedly wants powerful Iranian Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missiles. The Fateh-110 can travel up to 300 kilometers. Its guidance system and movable fins help steer it towards a target. The Zolfaghar carries a smaller warhead but can travel up to 700 kilometers.

“The Iranian missiles are important to the Russian war effort,” military analyst Savvas Vlassis of Greek international security website Doureios Ippos told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

This, he said, is “because the Russian Air Force has not affected substantially the course of the war. Iran appears willing to support the Russian war effort with a considerable number of [short range ballistic missiles], especially the Fateh-110 third- or fourth-generation missiles carrying a 500 kilogram warhead. Russia has depleted the greater part of its stockpile of ballistic and cruise missiles; therefore, they need the Iranian missiles to keep the pressure on Ukraine.”

“Iranians have to find a working balance between helping their Russian allies and preserving their own military capabilities against their rivals,” Vlassis added.

The Russian army has already used Iranian drones extensively in its attacks, causing havoc with a series of strikes on densely-populated Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure.

On Nov. 8, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a confidante of Putin, met in Tehran with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. In addition, Patrushev reportedly met with other high-ranking Iranians, including hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, to discuss cooperation between Tehran and Moscow. The two sides stressed the need to further enhance strategic relations.

“The most decisive response to U.S. sanctions … is the cooperation of independent countries,” Raisi said. The meetings also covered cybersecurity and “measures countering the interference of Western security services in the internal affairs of both countries,” according to an Iranian press communique.

The Iranian missiles are expected to be delivered to Russia before the end of the year. According to reports by Ukrainian intelligence agencies, Iran will also supply drones, including more than 200 Shahed-136 and Arash-2 kamikaze drones and Mohajer-6 reconnaissance and combat UAVs.

Iran initially denied its involvement in the Ukraine war in both official statements and contacts with the E.U., despite the fact that the use of its drones, notably the one-way attack Shahed-136 model, was undeniably confirmed. As the evidence grew too substantial to credibly deny, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian finally admitted on Nov. 5 that Iran has provided drones to Russia.

Iranian officials tried to downplay Iran’s involvement, claiming that the drones were sent to Russia months before the Ukrainian war and therefore the Iranians were unaware of Russian intentions to use them. However, evidence from Ukrainian military intelligence suggests otherwise, as many drones were dispatched after the start of the invasion in late February.

Interestingly enough, conservative circles in Iran criticized the change in official rhetoric. They worry about the possible repercussions of Iran’s active support for the Russian invasion. “The Iranian government should have not allowed Moscow to use the Iranian drones against Ukraine in the first place,” argued Massih Mohajeri, editor of the Jomhouri-e Eslami newspaper.

In reality, not only was Iran aware of Russia’s intention to use the drones in Ukraine, it has also dispatched personnel to Ukraine to train Russian troops, according to an Oct. 12 report by the Institute for the Study of War and reports in Ukrainian media.

In addition to helping an ally, Iran’s supply of drones and rockets targeting population centers provides it with a testing ground for weapons that could be used in a future attack against Israel.

On this point, Iran is menacingly candid. The Sobh-e-Sadegh newspaper, affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization—on Monday published an open threat in Hebrew on its front page. It warned that a new hypersonic missile reportedly developed by Iran could reach Israel in “400 seconds.”

Hypersonic missiles can evade defense systems with their great speed and maneuverability. Such a weapon could dismantle Israel’s aerial defense system, laying the ground bare for massive drone attacks.

“The new missile can pass through all missile defense systems, and I don’t think that the technology capable of intercepting it will be achieved in the decades to come,” declared General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force. “It can target the enemy’s anti-missile systems, and its production marks a huge generational leap in the development of a new generation of missiles.”

Hajizadeh’s bloody record includes the downing of an Ukrainian airliner in 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

Russia is losing the Ukraine war due to superior Western military technology provided to the Ukrainians. After almost nine months of a conflict that the Russian side thought would only last a week, Russia is running out of high-precision weapons. Russian frontline units suffer up to 500 casualties daily and morale among the troops is collapsing, while 400,000 conscription-aged men have fled the country.

The Putin regime is in clear danger and its ability to hold on to power is inextricably connected to some kind of success in Ukraine. As the once unbelievable prospect of a Russian tactical defeat in Ukraine becomes more likely, Iran is coming to the aid of Russia with its deadly missiles.

Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is a senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism and an adjunct lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens. His latest book is Geopolitics of the War in Ukraine.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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