On October 16, The Washington Post, citing U.S. intelligence, published information that Iran had agreed to give Russia Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles. Although the country has repeatedly denied helping Russia in its war in Ukraine, the Ukrainian army has already downed numerous Iranian-made Shahed-136, Shahed-131, and Mohajer-6 drones. What does Iran need it for?
Why Iran helps Russia: sanctions and several wars in the region
To understand Iran’s motivation to give missiles to Russia, we should accept the fact that it’s a country that has nothing to lose.
The theocratic dictatorship is subject to serious sanctions and wages several wars. It builds the Tehran—Beirut road to consolidate scattered Shia enclaves into a single security belt.
Tehran has been long and carefully preparing a strike on Israel, establishing factories that produce missiles and drones in the territory controlled by Bashar al-Assad. It also sponsors the intifada in the Palestinian territories and pays pensions to the families of shaheeds.
Israel Air Force has been striking Syria, destroying convoys and facilities — in essence, a war of attrition has been smoldering in the region for months.
Israel’s trouble: how oil makes the EU turn a blind eye to Iran
By the way, the rivalry with Iran is the reason why Israel is reluctant to sell its Iron Dome abroad. Under these harsh conditions, the Israelis have neither spare batteries nor missiles.
However, they made an exception for Azerbaijan — 35% of Israel’s oil imports, the issue of Iranian Azerbaijan, and the opportunity to have a moderate and secularized ally in the Muslim region have been considered a priority.
It’s especially important given that the EU has become increasingly concerned with the status of Palestinian Autonomy and the Golan Heights. Furthermore, it finds buying cheap Iranian oil more attractive than sending IRIS-T air defense systems to Jerusalem.
The agreement was made in 2017, but what still amazes me is the extent of hypocrisy around it, as those who had long advocated for women’s rights and the dismantling of the glass ceiling went to strike a deal with a country where they stone women for having their heads uncovered.
Swedish Minister of Foreign Trade Ann Linde and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, having smelled hydrocarbons, even put on hijabs then.
Why the Iranian totalitarian regime is hard to topple
Today, Iran is overwhelmed with protests over egg prices, fuel benefits, and the actions of the morality police. Young people are increasingly moving away from antediluvian Islamism — in response, the regime disperses the protesters with machine guns and heavy equipment and introduces total communications outages.
However, unless the regime of the ayatollahs blows up from within, it’s impossible to be overthrown without plunging the region into chaos.
Even if Israel makes airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, it won’t be enough. Such an operation would require several US carrier battle groups and a coalition of countries like the one before Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The regime produces combat drones, short-range ballistic missile systems, and anti-ship missiles. Therefore, a land operation is possible only after a months-long campaign of airstrikes, to which Iran will respond by hitting the tankers of Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region.
Why the U.S. isn’t willing to export democracy to Iran
A war with Iran would result in millions of refugees, adding to those millions that fled from civil wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as skyrocketing oil prices.
All told, the reason for the West to "discipline" Tehran militarily has to be very sound. Extremely sound, I should say.
It should be literally a perspective of Iran getting nuclear weapons or conventional war since strikes on Saudi oil processing facilities and U.S. military bases in Iraq still don’t qualify.
Here, the best approach would be the same strategy as the strategy of proxy wars in Yemen and Syria and the use of Shia groups in Iraq, which resulted in a Shia government in the country where Sunnis have historically been in charge.
Such a strategy requires a disproportionately powerful defense industry, for which Iran needs technologies, including dual-use ones like military chemistry, oil refining and extraction, and a nuclear program, to hold this card for negotiations and loosening the chokehold.
Why Iran has nothing to lose from selling missiles to Russia
Moscow needs missiles because its own production cannot catch up with the spending. Tehran needs, for example, missile technologies, titanium, a gas pipe for $40 billion, and nuclear technologists. What do they have to lose? Another dozen third-country proxy companies they use to evade sanctions?
After all, Iranian technologies work.
Yes, these are not high-tech, not supersonic missiles, but the UAE Swift catamaran with a displacement of 1,600 tons was hit by a Noor subsonic anti-ship missile — the ship burned out and became completely unserviceable. Well, that was basically a reverse-engineered version of the C-802 Chinese missile, but who cares?
The main thing is, it works.
Iran produces medium-range ballistic missiles, anti-radar drones, and missile carriers. It uses copies of the Israeli nuclear reactor for testing warheads and, generally, enjoys itself as it does.
Why Ukraine cannot close the sky from Iranian missiles quickly
Therefore, it’s possible that Iran will give Russia short-range ballistic missiles to wage the war in Ukraine. The Iranian-made Mohajer-6 is being extensively used by the Russians in Southern Ukraine — one of these UAVs has been downed and pulled out of the sea by the Ukrainians, who are now studying it. Meanwhile, the Shahed-136, as well as the smaller Shahed-131, are already well-known to the residents of Ukrainian cities by the sound they make.
So why not missiles? We don’t have a decent missile defense since the USSR broke apart before it managed to produce thousands of anti-ballistic missiles for the S-300V surface-to-air systems, which were fully integrated into the army in the late 1980s.
The West does have air defense systems able to intercept ballistic missiles, but they will take months to build and then teach Ukrainian operators to use them. In addition, they cost billions of dollars. There are also earlier versions of the Patriot in storage, but it’s hard to tell whether they are readily serviceable.
Hence, those who demand an immediate solution to the missile attack problem and are outraged at the APKWS systems (laser guidance systems for Hydra 70 unguided rockets — ), which were only tested in 2020, coming as late as spring 2023, are far from understanding the situation.
How Ukraine can protect itself against missiles while waiting for air defense
The exact type of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles to be used against Ukraine doesn’t matter much. These could be the third-generation Fateh-110 with a range of 350 km or the Zolfaghar with a 600-km range.
However, they also have more technologically advanced missiles with fragmentation warheads, in addition to ancient liquid- and solid-propellant missiles with monobloc heads plagiarized from Chinese originals.
The problem is, we had to start preparing for it yesterday.
We cannot target production facilities in Russia, even the Degtyaryov Plant in Kovrov, Vladimir Oblast, which makes obsolete Tochka systems.
Therefore, we have to build both light concrete shelters and deep ones; surround oil depots, transformer stations, and other critical facilities with dumps and concrete cubes; decentralize everything important for the generation of energy, heat, and steam.
We also have to revive civil defense, and there’s much to be done there. Given the fact that we spend the lion's share of the budget on security forces, doing this is as easy as repairing an airplane in flight.
What should the Ukrainians do as missile attacks and winter are coming
Despite the Iranian missile threat, it’s important to keep in mind that no missile campaign can bring down Ukraine.
Prepare for winter, don’t neglect air raid alerts, and don’t expect the authorities to build you a perfect shelter — we just don’t have the budget for it.
In addition, there are still places where local authorities apparently haven’t realized that the circumstances dictate concerns more important than pothole repair.
If a missile attack caught you outdoors, lying down is better than standing, going into the driveway is better than lying on the street, and going into the basement is better than being in the driveway.
Meanwhile, our ability to intercept missiles completely depends on aid from the West, which isn’t going to let the Russians destroy our cities in winter. However, albeit they’re already working on a solution, it will not be a quick one.