Iran’s regime is using civilian front companies to supply its illicit military drone program, according to a new report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The report, compiled in a book titled IRAN: IRGC’s Rising Drone Threat; A Desperate Regime’s Ploy to Project Power, Incite War, was presented at a conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, in which politicians and experts weighed in on the threats posed by Iran’s regime.
“We’re revealing for the first time a number of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) front companies running the regime’s drone program,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, Deputy Director of NCRI – US Representative Office, Washington, D.C. “These companies have civilian names but are in service of the IRGC. They provide parts and accessories for the UAV program. They are doing what the IRGC can’t do itself. They are helping the IRGC circumvent sanctions. It’s a smuggling ring.”
Jafarzadeh presented a list of companies that are working under civilian outfits but are in reality working for the IRGC and helping procure different components that are vital to the manufacturing of military drones.
Jafarzadeh also warned that the regime will be using ongoing talks in Vienna over its nuclear program to divert attention from all the threats it is posing to the region and across the globe.
“We need to deal with firmness to this regime. It should be granted no sanctions relief. It is imperative to reinstate all United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said.
Senator Joe Lieberman, who also spoke at the event, highlighted the need to deal with Iran’s regime with a firm hand in the Vienna talks. During these negotiations, the regime has taken a maximalist stance, demanding full sanctions relief, including sanctions that are unrelated to its nuclear program. And it has committed to fewer limits on its nuclear activities.
“We’re on the wrong course in the US in our efforts in Vienna to re-enter the JCPOA. They are well-intentioned but they don’t meet the realities of what Iran is doing in Vienna or the world. They are highly risky,” Lieberman warned. “The regime in Iran now returns to the table to negotiate over the JCPOA, but it is coming with dirty hands. This is a regime that has recklessly violated the most important terms of the JCPOA. There were certain requirements on Iran and they breached them, including the enrichment of uranium.”
Lieberman also reminded that the regime’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is a record criminal and mass murderer, which says a lot about how far the regime can be trusted.
“The regime in Iran has become more totalitarian in the past year with the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi. He should be in the court in The Hague instead of the president’s office,” Lieberman said. “The Iranian regime executes more people per capita than any other country. Iran continues to target political dissidents and minorities with capital punishment.”
Robert Joseph, former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, warned that seeking at any cost, especially as Iran’s regime is continuing its belligerent behavior.
“The [Biden] administration seems to be enthusiastic to pay a high price for a bad agreement. And the higher the price, the more resources the regime will have for its nuclear program, terrorism in the region, and suppressing its own people,” Joseph said.
Joseph also stressed that the regime is taking advantage of the JCPOA talks to obtain a sense of legitimacy and divert attention from the critical situation it is facing at home. Accordingly, Joseph emphasized, the real solution to Iran’s threats is support for the Iranian people.
“The selection of Raisi indicates the mullahs’ moral bankruptcy. The people of Iran have seen their beloved country become a prison to those inside and a pariah to those outsides,” Joseph said. “We can pursue misguided policies that provide support to the oppressors, or we can support the Iranian people to stand up against their oppressors. Appeasing a rogue regime is the wrong choice. The right choice is to support the resistance to this regime.”
David Shedd, Acting Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (2014–2015), pointed out that the regime has always been on the offensive and causing threats since its founding in 1979.
“They will go anywhere at any time and their reach is pervasive. They go after anybody that expresses dissent. It continues to target dissidents abroad, journalists, and there’s no end in sight,” he said. “I find that there’s no sign of diminishing in their intent to go after those who oppose the regime and speak out. The fraudulent election associated with Raisi and Khamenei’s role in supporting this is only going to become more hardline in their pursuit of the opposition abroad. There’s no limit to what they might use in terms of tools in their kit to do this.”
Shedd laid out three guidelines for dealing with the regime’s threats. First, pressure must be maintained on the regime. “The thought that any kind of lifting of sanctions of the regime will result in a kind response is false,” he said.
Second is the need to support the Iranian opposition. “This is an opportunity for the Biden Administration to support the international opposition,” Shedd said.
And finally, human rights should be a main topic of discussion in any interaction with the regime. “Use the international forums with the US in leadership to keep human rights issues at the forefront,” he said.
Matthew Kroenig, PhD, American political scientist and national security strategist, highlighted the regime’s broader threat in destabilizing the region.
“As we think about the global competition between democracy and autocracy, we must put more focus on the Iranian regime,” he said. “The regime’s aggressive foreign policy has turned the world against it. This is a conflict between the current regime in Iran and the rest of the world.”
Kroenig stressed that the regime will continue to push for more aggressive policies in the region and across the globe. Accordingly, it needs to be dealt with through a firmer policy
“We need to have a stronger pressure track. The regime needs to understand that if it remains on its current path, there will be consequences. Supporting the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people is important. And finally, we must keep a military option on the table as a last resort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Jonathan Ruhe, JINSA Director of Foreign Policy, highlighted the growing scope and threat of the regime’s drone program.
“Iran has improved its drone and missile capabilities in the five years it has enjoyed the benefits of the nuclear agreement. It increasingly uses drones and missiles in mixed swarms,” he said.
Ruhe also warned that Tehran is proliferating its drone capabilities in the region, encircling the Middle East with “overlapping fields of fire.”
“Iran’s drones are becoming weapons of mass effectiveness. The attack on the Saudi Abqaiq facility was Iran’s proof-of-concept regarding its drone capability. This attack could have been much, much worse. Since that attack, we’ve seen drones becoming central to Iran’s projection of power in the region,” he said. “Today, Iran uses drones in 60 percent of its attacks across the Middle East.”