A top Air Force commander in the Middle East has warned that Russia’s modification of Iranian drones could boost Tehran’s military capabilities and raise risks across the Middle East.
Washington accuses Tehran of supplying Moscow with drones, which have become a major feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are in regular use in Syria. Iran denies sending drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.
“I think there's a risk that... as Russia accepts the drones from Iran, as it modifies those weapons, that some of that technology gets shared back with Iran (and) gives them additional capabilities,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the head of US Air Force Central, told a press briefing, according to AFP on Wednesday.
“I see the implications of that relationship playing out a little bit in Syria. Who would have ever thought that the Russian Federation would need to go to Iran for military capability? And yet we're there,” he added.
Drones have become a focal point of military strategy for both Russia and Iran, which are under heavy Western sanctions.
Tehran last month unveiled its “Mohajer-10” attack drone, and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a gift of drones when he visited Moscow last week.
“I'm concerned about the level of collaboration that might happen between Russian forces and the amount of cooperation and collusion between Russia and Iran that's playing out in Syria,” Grynkewich told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
“That is something that we watch very closely,” he continued. “That burgeoning relationship is of a military concern to me.”
Tehran has been a primary supporter of Damascus. It has helped push groups loyal to it, most notably the Lebanese Hezbollah, to fight in Syria alongside government forces.
The conflict in Syria, which started 12 years ago, has killed at least half-a-million people, displaced millions more and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.