Drones Believed to Have Been Used in Iran Attack Are a Common Israeli Weapon

Iranian officials said that the Israeli strike on Friday morning was carried out by small exploding drones, a tactic that would follow a well-established pattern in Israeli attacks on Iranian military targets.

As Israel has targeted Iranian defense and military officials and infrastructure, small drones — specifically ones known as quadcopters — have been a signature of those operations. Quadcopter drones, so named because they have four rotors, have a short flight range and can explode on impact.

The drones might have been launched from inside Iran, whose radar systems had not detected unidentified aircraft entering Iranian airspace, Iranian officials said. If the drones were launched within the country, it demonstrates once again Israel’s ability to mount clandestine operations in Iranian territory.

Israel’s military has not commented on Friday’s strike. Though it rarely claims responsibility publicly for attacks against Iranian targets, several attacks in recent years have used drones:

  • August 2019: Israel sent an exploding drone into the heart of a Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in Beirut, Lebanon, to destroy what Israeli officials described as machinery used in the production of precision missiles.

  • June 2021: A quadcopter exploded outside Tehran at one of Iran’s main manufacturing centers for centrifuges, which purify uranium and are used at the country’s two major uranium enrichment facilities. Western officials have closely watched activity at those facilities for signs that Iran could be moving toward producing a nuclear weapon. Iran claimed that there had been no damage to the site outside Tehran, but satellite images showed evidence of significant damage.

  • February 2022: Six quadcopters exploded at Kermanshah, Iran’s main manufacturing and storage plant for military drones.

  • May 2022: A strike targeted the highly sensitive Parchin military site outside Tehran, where Iran develops missile, nuclear and drone technology. Quadcopter drones exploded into a building, killing an engineer and injuring another person, Iranians with knowledge of the attack said at the time.

  • January 2023: A drone attack on an Iranian military facility in January 2023 caused a large explosion in the center of Isfahan, the city near the air base that was struck on Friday. At the time, Iran made no effort to hide the fact that an attack had happened, but said it had done little damage. Iranian state media reported that drones had targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant but had been shot down by a surface-to-air defense system.

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