Iranian state media reported that the Islamic Republic’s latest unmanned aerial vehicle, called Hamaseh, or “Epic” in Farsi, was introduced and utilized in war games conducted by the IRGC Ground Forces between Tuesday and Thursday. The reports also claimed that the Hamaseh drone qualified as a particular type of vehicle known as a high-altitude long-endurance platform, but independent military analysts have disputed this and have suggested that the drone is not as advanced as the IRGC claims, but is probably only capable of medium-altitude operations.
The Iranian military and the paramilitary IRGC have a long history of making bold statements about the country’s military capabilities, only for those statements to be called into question by foreign experts. Many of these claims in recent years have focused on drone technology, especially since the 2011 crash of a US drone on Iranian territory, where it was recovered by the Iranian military, which later claimed to have cloned its technology.
The unveiling of that supposed clone did not show it in operation, and this fact contributed to some foreign analysts’ conclusion that the drone featured by Iranian state media was only a non-functional mock-up. Nevertheless, claims about this and other advancements have been used by Iranian officers to buttress other bold claims about its overall military capability and even its readiness for war with the US.
In May 2014, for instance, IRGC Naval commander Admiral Ali Fadavi famously remarked that the country’s naval forces would be capable of sinking an American aircraft carrier in less than a minute. This claim was demonstrated on a model of an American warship, albeit on one that had no defenses and was incapable of maneuvering.
These sorts of claims have continued to the present date, and appear to have accelerated in the run-up to Armed Forces Day. Earlier this month, IRGC Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari told a gathering of fellow officers, “For years, we have been building power on the presumption of a widespread war with the US and its allies, and have developed all our capacities and capabilities for decisive victories over such enemies.”
It may be difficult to regard this as anything other than bluster, considering the US’s status as a global superpower. However, such statements by Jafari and others may reflect not only a boastful attitude about Iranian military development, but also about their expectation of support from powerful allies. Some Western policy analysts have long been warning about the possible emergence of an “eastern bloc” led by Russia, China, and Iran. And indeed there have been a number of indicators of growing cooperation and closer alliance among these parties, especially between Russia and Iran.
One of the International Business Times reports points out that Iran’s “Great Prophet” military drills this week coincided with a new trip to Russia by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s foreign expeditionary Quds Force. He is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss cooperation on global security policy, especially concerning the two countries’ mutual interventions in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad.
A trip to Moscow by Suleimani last year was credited with convincing the Putin government to begin direct military involvement in Syria, bombing rebel targets in coordination with Iranian-led efforts on the ground. Those joint operations have reportedly continued even in the wake of a recent international agreement establishing a tentative ceasefire among factions not affiliated with the Islamic State or the Al Nusra Front.
Critics of Western policy in the region suggest that this situation is indicative of Iranian and Russian confidence about the absence of serious consequences for their continued, and uncompromising, interventions. The Iranians have repeatedly made it clear that they will not entertain the possibility of Assad’s removal from power ahead of any international solution to the six-year conflict.
The supposed lack of consequences was further highlighted by a Reuters report on Suleimani’s trip, which pointed out that the Quds Force commander is blacklisted from international travel due to the organization’s terrorist designation. UN member states including Russia are ostensibly required to obstruct such travel or arrest blacklisted individuals, but Russia has now hosted Suleimani at least twice, with no apparent punishment or threat of punishment from the rest of the international community.
Such casual exchanges between Russia and Iran may point to further expansion of relations between the two, including the sale of advanced weapons. Russia recently delivered the first shipment of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Islamic Republic, and previous Iranian visitors to Moscow have certainly discussed following up that exchange with the purchase of tanks, jet fighters, and more.
On the other hand, the White House has recently indicated that it would use its position on the UN Security Council to obstruct any such sales by Russia. However, some critics of current Western policy regard this as being too little, too late, and are already concerned by the possible implications of Iran’s acquisition of the S-300 system, as well as its probable improvements to domestic weapons production in the wake of relief from nuclear-related sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.