Articles > > A New Middle East Era

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-09-24
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

The entire Middle East seems to have entered into what we would not be amiss to call an 'era of drones.
Not a day goes by without news of drone operations, or suspicious circling, or unidentified aircraft. Drones can cost anywhere between a few thousand and several hundred million dollars. Some are manufactured by countries of all sizes at varying costs, while others are produced by militias and factions in crude workshops or garages. Some have the latest in modern flight technology while others are shoulder-launched drones that require a running start and release to become airborne.
However, there is no greater single defining feature than that shared by all drones: The ability to penetrate defenses and infiltrate borders, registering fatal strategic blows against targets. They are distinguished by how difficult they are for even sophisticated radar networks and surveillance equipment to detect. The cost of downing a drone is often much higher than that of producing it. This is the new weapon of modern warfare, and it has gradually begun to replace missiles as the 'poor man's weapon' after developing, producing, and equipping drones has become widely accessible. It is also a multi-purpose, multi-tasking weapon: It can be used for surveillance, espionage, and data collection as well to strike military sites, economic facilities, and strategic targets.
Almost every country in the region has had some experience in dealing with this new kind of weapon. Dozens of unidentified drones have hit PMU (pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units) sites in Iraq on several occasions. Just yesterday, the PMU found one that had crashed in an Iraqi province with no hint as to when it had showed up and how long it had been operating. Syria, in turn, has turned into an arena for drone operations. Damascus recently announced it had downed one over 'Aqraba, which had already been hit by Israeli strikes that killed two Hezbollah operatives.
Iran has its own long history of producing this type of aircraft, and is today targeted by spy drones, mostly from the U.S. It recently downed a latest U.S. model over its regional waters, which was a slap in the face to the U.S. weapons industry. The Houthis have shot down U.S. and Gulf drones, and there are undoubtedly others that it has failed to detect or down. The Houthis have also begun using such weapons themselves to attack their Yemeni enemies and sometimes the Saudi-led Arab coalition's targets in Yemen and beyond. Hezbollah downed two Israeli drones over Beirut's Southern Dahiyeh. Israel itself is a leading manufacturer of that type of aircraft, and the Palestinian resistance has shot down some of its drones over Gaza. The scene Libya is no less aggravated, as both sides and their regional sponsors exchange mutual accusations of their growing reliance on these weapons in the war between the 'enemy brethren' in Eastern and Western Libya.
The 'poor man's weapon' has become a point of concern for many countries embroiled in wars, disputes, and interventions in regional crises. It is no longer easy to control the tools to produce them. The necessary technology is readily available online, and the cost of defending against or preventing a drone attack is very high, and it is no loss costly to down one should it successfully reach its target; all this without even touching upon the moral, psychological, material, and political costs.
The proliferation of such weapons opens the door to a wide range of scenarios, such as establishing a deterrent balance between poor and destitute groups and militias on the one hand, and countries overflowing with money, technology and superior capabilities, on the other. We have begun hear of attempts to establish such a balance between the Palestinian/Lebanese factions and Israel, or between the Houthis and their enemies, and this chain reaction is likely to continue as local and cross-border wars intensify.
There is an even more dangerous prospect when it comes to drones; it will not be long before they can carry banned crude weapons with powerful destructive capabilities, and before terrorist factions and groups expand their production, especially those based in 'safe zones'.
Then, and only then, the threat of terrorism will become compounded and the cost of footing the bill will rise.