The Sunday Telegraph

The Shahed: Iran’s low-cost but deadly weapon of choice

Tehran’s ‘AK47’ with its lawnmower-like whirr has been deployed across region by proxy regimes

- By James Rothwell in Berlin

WHEN Tehran launched dozens of explosives-laden drones to attack Israel, it wasn’t long before they were heard and spotted over the skies of Iran.

Videos posted online tracked them above the Iranian cities of Kermanshah, Khozestan and Andimeshk. And before long they were filmed over the border in Iraq’s Sulaymaniy­ah and the city of Karbala.

“Dozens of drones were spotted flying from Iran in the direction of Israel over Iraqi airspace,” two Iraqi security sources told Reuters.

The drones launched from Iran were seen flying low as they passed over Iraq, with social media awash with clips of the weapons making a loud buzzing noise.

The unmanned aerial vehicles are believed to be Shaheds – “Witness” in Farsi. The deadly long-range drone has become known as the “AK-47” of Tehran: cheap, mass produced and ready to be exported worldwide to conflict zones where the regime has a vested interest.

Their lawnmower-like whirr is already very familiar for Ukrainians who are constantly under attack from Iranian-made drones launched by Russia. There, the sound of a Shahed grumbling through the skies signals an imminent explosion and, frequently, civilian casualties. Fitted with warheads of up to 50kg and with a range of up to 2,000 kilometres, the Russians have mainly been relying on Shaheds to attack energy grids and grain storehouse­s.

The Shahed has already been used many times by Iranian proxies in the Middle East, notably by Houthi militia groups who relied on it against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and more recently in a string of attacks on Western commercial ships in the Red Sea. The Syrian regime’s drone fleet is also reported to include Shaheds. A Shahed-136 drone was, according to US officials, used in the notorious July 2021 drone attack by Iran on the Mercer Street vessel in the Red Sea, which killed a Romanian sailor and a British security guard.

By launching the drones from Iran, well over 1,000km away from Israel, Tehran seemed to have deliberate­ly avoided the element of surprise.

The drones passing over Iraq appeared to be flying very low, in an apparent effort to avoid local radar.

It was unclear on Saturday night whether the drone salvoes would be followed by further launches of cruise or ballistic missiles.

If Iran’s goal is to overwhelm Israeli air defences, it may have launched the comparativ­ely slow drones well in advance of the missiles, in an attempt to ensure the weapons reach Israel at around the same time.

“The Shahed 136 is not exactly the most advanced drone in the world,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracie­s, earlier this year.

“But that’s the point, you can accomplish very significan­t things on the battlefiel­d with low technology, low-cost systems, especially if you can employ them in large quantities.

“Iranian drones are not just a problem for Ukrainians. They are a problem for Israel, the United States, and its Arab partners, too.”

 ?? ?? One of the Iranian Shahed drones spotted last night after a swarm was launched towards Israel
One of the Iranian Shahed drones spotted last night after a swarm was launched towards Israel

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