US, Israeli and other Mid-East intelligence agencies investigating the latest round of Iranian attacks were startled to discover a powerful new, hitherto unknown, capability, which throws their calculations off the board. The discovery was made during tests on the damage caused to four tankers by sabotage outside Fujairah port on May 14.
Those discoveries posed more questions than answers. They also led to two alternative theories:
One is that the tankers were holed by frogmen, who reached them aboard speedboats (as DEBKA Weekly postulated on May 17: Iranian Al-Qods Ultra-Secret Unit 400 and Unit 190 sabotaged the tankers). If so, what explosive did they attach to the ships’ hulls? Were they tiny sea mines designed for causing limited damage as planned?
The tankers were empty at the time and moored in UAE – not international – waters. This saved the Iranian instigators from disrupting international shipping and a pollution crisis, whereas in total war nothing would have been off-limits. None of the experts can explain how the saboteurs reached the tankers undetected by US or local aerial or naval surveillance.
Subsequent tests have led away from frogmen to a discovery. A new type of sophisticated drone appears to have been responsible for the tanker attack. It was armed with an unfamiliar explosive package programmed to detonate precisely at or just below their waterline. According to additional information reaching DEBKA Weekly, this finding came up again in the intensive tests performed after the Yemeni rebel drone attack on two pumping stations along the central Saudi pipeline that carries oil from the eastern oilfields to the Red Sea port of Yanbu. That attack was followed by another Houthi drone strike on Najran airport in the Saudi-Yemen border, which destroyed a Saudi arms depot.
Those tests revealed a new type of explosive package had been developed by Iran and not previously encountered. The novel flying stealth drones and the new explosive munition turn out to be recent products of Iran’s armaments industry, which endow the Islamic Republic with an enhanced weapons capability of far greater potency than previously appreciated in the West or the Middle East. This finding, which has been kept under a tight veil of secrecy until now, has critical strategic ramifications:
1. Flying stealth drones are bad news for America and even more so for the Gulf nations and Israel. They confront the most sophisticated war planes deployed in the region with drones capable of penetrating any country’s air space undetected for high-precision strikes on essential utilities. Iran has thus found a way of enhancing its aerial power without having to find the money to develop a fourth or fifth generation air force to replace its vintage air fleet.
2. The ability to use those drones for accurate strikes and limited damage is equally worrying because it indicates a high degree of control over this weapon’s functions, meaning that it could just as soon conduct massive damage depending on its programming.
3. The flying stealth drones are much cheaper to produce and operate than ballistic missiles. This explains the recent downsizing of Iran’s ballistic missile production and stocks, especially medium-range types, while concentrating on crash programs for producing drones.
4. By making those drones the spearhead of its war effort, in place of missiles and warplanes, Iran’s strategists may render partially redundant the US, Israeli and Gulf multi-billion-dollar programs for developing sophisticated air defense systems. They will all now have to go back to the drawing boards to develop weapons capable of countering those flying stealth drones.
5. Iran’s new weapon can be fought. The shortest and possibly cheapest tactic falls into two parts:
a) Cyber war for disarming the drones as soon as they take off for operations.
b) Bombing their home bases and destroying the mobile teams operating them.DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report first signs that the US naval and air forces in the Gulf may be regrouping for their new mission. The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group has entered the Arabian Sea and embarked on a series of joint drills with US amphibious forces aboard the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Kersage headed out of the |Persian Gulf to join the Lincoln in the northern Arabian Sea east of Oman, about 1,000km from the Iranian coast. These movements aimed at sending a strong message to Tehran that the US is ready for any action.