While the current use of drones has been limited to the asymmetric context of the Global War on Terror, the possibility of using them against regional competitors is also an option. A recent demonstration by the Houthis in the Syrian capital of Sanaa, a city surrounded by oil pipelines, showcased an Israeli K1-UAV that has been modified by intelligence agencies. Israel Aerospace Industries is expected to unveil the IAI Mini-Harpi in 2019, and plans to use the technology in the coming years.
While the U.S. government has not discussed the use of armed drones, regional states are not required to share information about their use. Washington’s targeted killing campaign has helped shape drone policy, but other nations are more likely to threaten or even conduct drone strikes that violate international norms. And in addition to the US, there are other countries that are increasingly willing to engage in the drone trade and use them as a dangerous new wild card in the Middle East.
As the UAV technology continues to develop, drones have the potential to be used in domestic conflicts. For example, Turkey has begun using armed drones to combat domestic terrorism. In the Middle East, the use of armed drones may be the preferred tool of states when confronting domestic issues. This is a dangerous development for international law and international standards. But the benefits are obvious.
Yet, after equipping its militia allies with drones and know-how, Tehran appears to be losing its grip over how the aircraft are used, some officials and analysts say. Current and former U.S. and Iraqi officials said military discipline within Iran’s network of Shiite militias in Iraq has deteriorated since the death of Soleimani, who was revered by the groups and tightly controlled militant operations. The spread of drone technology has coincided with the militias’ plummeting popularity within Iraq, a change in fortune that spurred open feuding with Iraq’s government as well as a quiet chafing against restraints imposed by their Iranian backers, officials and experts say.