Senior Iranian defense officials announced on Sunday that unmanned aerial drones manufactured by the Islamic Republic will be armed with missiles. Explaining the move, Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Eslami said "The Revolutionary Guard launched drones during the last military drill, which, in accordance with a defense ministry plan, we are now arming with missiles."
Eslami said Iranian engineers based their technology on that of the U.S.-manufactured RQ-170 stealth drones, one of which crashed in Iranian territory at the end of 2011.
Experts believe Iran was referring to its long-range drone called the Karrar, which Iran began to deploy in Aug. 2010 after an official launch ceremony attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to Iranian military officials at the time, the drone was capable of flying at high speed and could be armed with air-to-surface missiles.
On April 22, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of the Revolutionary Guards, related what he said were details of the RQ-170's operational history to prove his claim that Tehran's military experts had extracted data from the drone captured earlier in eastern Iran.
Tehran flaunted the capture of the Sentinel, a top-secret surveillance drone with stealth technology, as a victory for Iran and a defeat for the U.S. in a complicated intelligence and technological battle. U.S. officials acknowledged losing the drone but said Iran would find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials continued to level threats at Israel. One senior official said on Sunday that if Israel attacks Iran, "representatives of the Zionist regime will be the first sacrifices of the assault." According to the official, "Israel's warmongering policies will lead to an increase in the hatred harbored by residents of the occupied territories toward the Israeli representatives."
Iran and Israel have exchanged threats over the past months in an ongoing crisis over what Israel considers to be Iran's race to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran has consistently denied the accusation and claims its acquisition of nuclear technology is only meant for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies, including those of Israel and the U.S., as well as reports by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, have cast substantial doubt on Iran's claims.
Fearing that Iran is moving quickly toward nuclear capability, Israel has repeatedly hinted at an attack.
On April 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dismissed talk of a possible Israeli attack on his country's nuclear facilities as empty threats. During a visit to Tunisia, Salehi said threats from Israel were "empty words, bluffing."
On Aug. 22, Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned that anyone who tries to harm Israel will face the "deadly strength" of the IDF, in a veiled reference to threats made by Iran.
"These days, explicit threats to the security of Israel and its citizens are being heard," Gantz said. "These threats reflect a mistaken assessment of our strength and capabilities. Those who believe they can eradicate Israel and try to harm our country will discover the deadly strength of the IDF. Against the threats facing us, we stand prepared and ready along the length of Israel's borders."