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Explainer – Iran Missile cum Drone Attack on ISIS in Syria

Published Oct 02, 2018
Updated Jul 04, 2020

A review of Employment of Missiles for Punitive Missions by Iran, symbolism and the risk of escalation

 At 02:00 on 01 October (22:30 GMT on 30 September) Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched six missiles at what it claimed was the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams (ISIS) positions in Eastern Syria. This was followed by the use of seven armed drones.

The IRGC holds the ISIS or Daesh along with the al-Ahwazia terror group responsible for the September 22 terrorist attack on a parade in Ahvaz. 4

 Here is a detailed explainer including analysis of the attacks:-

Brief of Operation

Operation codenamed Zarbat-e Moharram (Blow of Moharram) was undertaken to attack Albu Kamal region in Eastern Euphrates from Kermanshah province in Western Iran, 570km away from the targets. A combination of missiles and attack drones were used in the strike. Six Missile strikes were followed by seven IRGC drones targeted the terrorists’ positions in the region again.

Weapon Systems Used

Missiles used were of Zolfaqar and Qiam classes with ranges of respectively 750km and 800km and precision-striking capability.

Seven Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) drones and six precision-striking ballistic missiles Zolfaqar and Qiam  were used to attack the terrorist targets in Albu Kamal region in Eastern Syria. One Saeqeh drone was said to be of Simorgh (Phoenix) class with capability to simultaneously strike at four targets with smart bombs that have pinpoint precision-striking capability in far distances. Simorgh has reconnaissance, surveillance, combat and bombing capabilities claims Iran Simorgh drones are equipped with an autopilot capability that brings them back to their airbase if operators lose control or are disconnected from the pilotless aircraft.

Saeqeh was unveiled in October 2016 and the footages of the drone attack on the terrorists in Eastern Syria that it fires bombs from inside a case mounted under the drone’s body. The Iranian drone is based on the US RQ-170 which was captured in 2011 by the IRGC Aerospace Force through reverse engineering of the US drone

Impact on Target

As per the BBC, a Syrian opposition group confirmed explosions in a pocket of territory controlled by Daesh and the missiles could have hit the headquarters of Daesh in the Hajin area with 1,500 and 2,000 militants in the area.

IRGC Statements

IRGC Public Relations Office said. “A number of mid-range ground-to-ground missiles fired from the IRGC Aerospace Force bases in Kermanshah targeted the Takfiri terrorists in this operation and struck them with lethal and crushing blows,” the statement said.   “Security of the Iranian people is the Armed Forces’ redline and the Guards spares no efforts in maintaining peace and security,” the IRGC said in a statement. “Our iron fist is prepared to deliver a decisive and crushing response to any wickedness and mischief of the enemies,” the statement added.   Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, said, “The terrorists used bullets in the Ahvaz attack but we responded them by missiles.”

 Chief of General Staff of Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said, “what matters is that the Islamic Republic’s drones crossed one or two countries to reach the [ISIL-controlled] areas and conducted the operation successfully and the Islamic Republic’s missiles travelled long distances to reach their targets and landed on very small buildings and inflicted casualties.”

 Employment of Missiles for Punitive Missions by Iran

 It is the second time that Iran is targeting Daesh positions inside Syria. In June 2017, the IRGC fired missiles at Daesh after the group carried out an attack on the Majlis (parliament) in Tehran and the shrine of Imam Khomeini.

 Iran has also used missiles to attack other terrorist groups. On 08 September IRGC launched seven short-range surface-to-surface missiles targeting headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Iran (KDP-I) in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The missiles specifically targeted the KDP-I’s political bureau, the PDKI’s training center, and a Peshmerga complex.

 The attacks reportedly killed 14 members of the two parties and injured 40 more. The Secretary of KDP-I, Mustafa Mawludi, and his predecessor, Khalid Azizi, were also among those wounded during the attack.  

 Symbolism of Attack

The attack demonstrated the capability of the IRGC to launch such complex missions with a combination of drones and missiles, accuracy and delivery capability which was a signal to the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Thus while the target was ISIS, the message was for these countries.

Risk of Escalation

The Iranian missile and drone attacks are said to be within three miles or five kms from United States troops present in Syria to support the anti ISIS militias. Launch of the missile cum drone attacks thus was highly dangerous as any miscue would have caused heavy casualties to the US forces resulting in a conflagration by the Trump administration which may be looking for just such an opportunity to strike Iran.

Meanwhile a larger conflagration in the region is also likely as Iran has blamed Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the United States for the Ahvaz attack. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 threatened that “we won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran”.

In  a 2017 memo John Bolton, who is the U.S. national security advisor had advocated “providing assistance” to Khuzestan Arabs and other minorities in Iran. Bolton recently reiterated the need to bomb Iran and has the ear of President Donald Trump. Bolton warned Iran, “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.”

The strike by the IRGC on the KDPI is also likely to lead to some retaliation by the US as it was supporting the group to launch attacks in Iran but the IRGC had penetrated the network and may have got prior information of the meet of the leadership to target the same effectively.

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