“Nobody knew” the capabilities of Iranian-made drones before they were first identified, Express.co.uk has been told, as their increasing role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine is brought to light.
Iran has denied supplying Moscow with Shahed-136 drones, thought to be operating in Ukraine as “Geran-2” UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
But earlier this week, the Ukrainian capital was struck by UAVs believed by Western countries and Ukrainian authorities to be provided to Russia by Iran.
But the highly-destructive UAVs, nicknamed “kamikaze” drones for their self-destruction on detonation, can’t be “laughed off” because they have already “proven” to be effective weapons, according to Alex Vatanka, founding director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute based in Washington D.C..
Vatanka told Express.co.uk: “Drones are something the Iranians have been working on for some time.
“They clearly have an inventory; they have proven that the drones are capable back in 2019, they struck a number of targets in Saudi Arabia.
“That was the operation that surprised the world.
“Nobody knew Iranian drones could do that. But they did.
“So they you know, we can’t laugh off Iranian drones and just say they are a joke.
“Clearly, they’re not a joke, because they’ve proven themselves.”
READ MORE: Russian soldiers being treated like ‘cannon fodder’
Vatanka then added that Iranian missile capabilities had been a focus of the regime since Tehran lost its US-backed air force following the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
The Islamic Revolution brought the current regime, now spearheaded by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, to power.
After losing access to American support for an air force, Vatanka said, “they invested for the last 40 years in their missile capabilities, working with countries like North Korea”.
He added: “So there are things that Iran can do on those two fronts, drones and missiles.
On Thursday, the White House said it believed Iran sent military experts to assist Russian forces in Crimea with the launch of “kamikaze” drone attacks.
National security spokesman John Kirby told the media: “We assess that Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations.”
He added: “Iran and Russia, they can lie to the world, but they certainly can’t hide the facts, and the fact is this: Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground.”