Tag: Iran

Erbil Rocket Attacks: Iranian Munnition, Usual Suspects

On the night of 15 February, approximately 14 rockets landed in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). TARGET: ERBIL Three projectiles hit the military annex of Erbil…

On the night of 15 February, approximately 14 rockets landed in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

TARGET: ERBIL

Three projectiles hit the military annex of Erbil International Airport that the Coalition built to service counter-ISIS operations. Three housing facilities were destroyed in the attack, killing one contractor (non-US) and injuring others. 

Battle Damage Assessment: Contractor housing facilities destroyed at Erbil Air Base

At least two other rockets landed in residential areas, destroying public and private properties and injuring bystanders.

IRANIAN ROCKETS

The unexploded ammunition recovered by Kurdish counter-terrorism forces is identical to the Iranian-made “Haseb” 107mm rocket artillery, a copy of the Chinese Type 63. This type of munition is ubiquitous among Iraqi Shiite militias courtesy of the IRGC-Quds Force. 

Iranian rockets used in the attack

The Haseb has a short-range (7-10 km), which meant the aggressors launched the attack from proximity. As Haseb rockets can be launched from the back of a minivan or pick-up truck, they can easily be smuggled in denied areas. 

دەزگا ئەمنییەکان ئەو ئۆتۆمبێلەیان دۆزییەوە کە مووشەکەکانی ئاراستەی هەولێر کردبوو

بە گوێرەی زانیارییەکانی پەیجی…

Posted by ‎دژه تیرۆری کوردستان Kurdistan CT‎ on Monday, February 15, 2021

 

Images released by Kurdish authorities show the launch vehicle, a light food truck, with a disguised rocket artillery system. The vehicle appears to have infiltrated the city under the cover of delivering food to a local market. 

USUAL SUSPECTS: IRAQI SHIITE MILITIAS

A group calling itself “Saraya Awliya al-Dam” (Custodians of the Blood) claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the Washington Institute, Saraya Awliya al-Dam is just a cover used by Asaib al-Haq (AHH), a seasoned Iraqi Shiite militia with strong ties with Iran. The U.S. Department of State designated AHH as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 3, 2020. 

Iranian-backed attacks on Coalition forces in Iraq are not new. The targeting of Erbil is, however, largely unprecedented (the Sept 2020 attack is the only exception) and could indicate an expansion of Iranian-approved targets. If that’s the case, Iraq’s most stable area is now in Tehran’s crosshairs. 

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Iran Tests Carrier-Killing Missile, Suicide Drones (and Other Insights from Exercise “Great Prophet 15”)

During the latest military exercise(“Great Prophet” 15), the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Aerospace Forces (IRGC-AF) demonstrated how Iran would attack U.S. military bases and warships in the region. Great…

During the latest military exercise(“Great Prophet” 15), the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Aerospace Forces (IRGC-AF) demonstrated how Iran would attack U.S. military bases and warships in the region. Great Prophet 15 (GP15) was Iran’s third drill in almost two weeks – at a time of rising tensions due to the U.S. President Donald Trump’s departure from the White House.

  1. GP15 is part of a series of annual wargames organized by the IRGC to test new capabilities and tactics. Initiated on 15 January, this year’s exercise featured two stages during which the IRGC-AF simulated a combined drone and missile attack on enemy “U.S.” air defenses, bases, and warships in the Middle East. 
  2. The IRGC-AF successfully test-fired some of its newest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ballistic missiles (B.M.s), including a long-range anti-ship variant that could theoretically target U.S. aircraft carriers. 
  3. The IRGC-AF exercise had three main objectives: To respond to the tensions with the United States, reinforce Iran’s strategic deterrent, and test new ballistic missile technologies. 

STAGE ONE: AIR DEFENSE ATTACK

(1)In the first phase of GP15, the IRGC-AF simulated a drone swarm attack on enemy radar sites and air defenses. Footage released by Iranian media showcased the following UAVs: 

  • Shahed 161 combat reconnaissance drone (at least four) flying in formation. One of the many drone variants that the IRGC-AF developed based on the U.S. RQ-170 captured in 2011. 

Shahed 161 during GP15

  • Shahed 129 medium altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone. At least one was shown taking off, armed with Sadid-345 glide bombs, and then airborne. Similar with the Israeli Hermes 450 and American MQ-1 Predator, the Shahed 129 is one of Iran’s most seasoned UAV. The IRGC-AF operated the Shahed 129 extensively in the Syrian Civil War, and it continues to support it with upgraded ordnance and sensors

Shahed 129 with Sadid-345 bombs participates in GP15

  • Unidentified loitering munition (aka “suicide drones”) neutralizing target buildings and a mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. 

A rare sighting: the IRGC’s coy suicide drone makes a cameo at GP15, destroying a variety of targets.

  • This unidentified model is similar to the suicide drone Saudi Arabia recovered after the Iranian attack on petrochemical facilities in Abqaiq-Khurais and Afif in 2019. Unable to identify the drone, the Saudis have labeled it “Delta Wave UAV.” Experts have pointed out that Delta Wave might be an evolution of the Toofan-2 suicide drone that Iran unveiled in 2015. 

Comparison between the suicide drone from GP15 and the airframe wreckage from Abqaiq-Khurais and Afif, Saudi Arabia (2019)

(2) The use of drones and specifically “suicide drones” for S/DEAD roles (suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses) is a logical tactic for Iran. Due to their stealthy characteristics, suicide drones can fly below the radar to strike enemy air defenses and heavily defended targets. With the drone-cruise missile attack in 2019 on Saudi Arabia, Iran has already proved this works in a real-world engagement. 

(3) An advantage of loitering munition is that it is inexpensive, especially compared to ballistic missiles tipped with anti-radiation warheads like the IRGC used for SEAD in previous exercises.  

(4) After the SEAD mission, the IRGC-AF fired its second kinetic package, a barrage of rockets and missiles, to destroy the enemy base. The ballistic missile attack could have also played a support role in saturating the enemy air defenses. Footage from the exercise shows the coordinated launch of thirteen Zolfaghar/Dezful missiles on 15 January. 

Dezful ballistic missiles lined up to fire in anger (frame from @Imamedia video)

(5) IRGC-AF claims to have tested new high-performing variants of the Zolfaghar and Dezful ballistic missiles (B.M.), as well as Zelzal (guided artillery rocket). Iran alleges that these new variants feature radar-absorbent material and a detachable warhead. Video analysis of exercise footage confirms the latter capability. 

Freeze frame: IRGC-AF demonstrates separable warhead capability

 

STAGE TWO: KEEPING U.S. AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AT BAY 

(6) In the second and final stage of GP15, the IRGC-AF turned its attention to the maritime domain. At least three Sejil-2, two Gadhr, and one Emad medium-range B.M.s struck naval targets in the Gulf of Oman and the northern Indian Ocean on 16 January 2021. 

(7) The main event of GP15 was the maiden launch of a long-range anti-ship ballistic missile (AshBM). The missile traveled for 1,800 km to the northern Indian Ocean, where it reportedly hit a floating target. 

(8)The U.S. military confirmed the event, adding that two Iranian missile splashed down 32 km from a commercial vessel and 160 km from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG). The missile test did not pose a threat to the Nimitz carrier or its escorts. 

Overview: Possible Iranian AshBM attack route towards the Arabian Sea and the location of the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier the day after the missile test

(9)Iran already possesses short-range AshBM, namely the Khalij Fars (200 km) and Zolfaghar Basir (700 km), ideal for overwhelming enemy targets in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. However, a functional long-range capability would be a game-changer. 

(10) If the new Iranian AshBM is indeed a credible threat, the U.S. would need to withdraw its aircraft carrier from the 1,800 km engagement range in the event of a war. Having to operate from such a distance would significantly reduce the effectiveness of offensive naval operations. Fighter jets would have to travel farther, reducing sortie rate and operational tempo, while most ship-launched missiles would be entirely out of range. 

(11) Pushing American carriers and destroyers far away from Iranian shores adds another layer to Iran’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy. While Iran has produced a massive and diverse arsenal of short-range missiles (both cruise and ballistic) that brings the entire Gulf region in the IRGC’s crosshairs, long-range advancements are relatively rare. 

Iranian anti-ship cruise missile engagement ranges (© Defense Intelligence Agency/DIA)

Iranian ballstic missile engagement ranges (© Defense Intelligence Agency/DIA 2019)

(12) There is nevertheless reason to be skeptical about the Iranian claims. Currently, information on the AshBM is minimal. We know that a missile test took place and that a warhead crashed into the Indian Ocean after a 1,800 km flight. There is no image or video of the missile. It is not even clear if the long-range AshBM is an entirely new model or a spinoff of one of the missiles launched on Saturday.

(13) Furthermore, the kill chain to strike a U.S. carrier guarded by Aegis-capable destroyers is very complicated especially in wartime conditions, as the WarZone eloquently explained. While the recent exercise may not represent a clear and immediate threat to carrier operations in the region, it does indicate that Iran is getting closer to limiting the U.S. Navy’s freedom of movement in the area. 


by HARM

editing by Gecko

Cover image and video frames @Imamedia

Media analysis sources for reference: video 1, video 2

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What We Know About the Secret Israeli-Saudi Meeting in Neom

On 22 November 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), and Israeli Prime-Minister Netanyahu met in Neom (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). The…

On 22 November 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), and Israeli Prime-Minister Netanyahu met in Neom (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). The meeting was the first known official or semi-official encounter between Israel and Saudi Arabia and came at a critical time for the Middle East. 

NETANYAHU’S SECRET VISIT

Although the Israeli presence was a secret, the Prime Minister’s Gulfstream IV private jet (T7CPX) was spotted on flight trackers. ADS-B data shows the flight path of T7CPX from Tel Aviv-Yafo to Neom, where the plane remained grounded for two hours. The aircraft returned to Israel around 22:05 UTC. 

Flight tracking data confirms that Israeli PM Netanyahu’s private jet travelled to Neom on the evening of November 22 (T-Intelligence)

Netanyahu’s presence in Neom has since become an open secret, as multiple sources from the cabinet confirmed the story for Israeli news outlets. Israeli media also reported that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen joined PM Netanyahu for the meeting in Neom. 

The main point on the agenda was likely the normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations. Secretary Mike Pompeo has pursued MBS to follow the example of his neighbors, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, to establish formal ties with Israel. However, Riyadh has publically stated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is a precondition for a Saudi-Israeli deal. 

GOING AFTER “PROJECT AMAD?”

There is increasing speculation that the parties also discussed the Iranian threat.

After years of backchanneling, Saudi Arabia and Israel may be negotiating the possibility of direct action against Iran’s nuclear program (Iranian codename Project “Amad”). The Israelis are interested in using Saudi airspace to refuel and return after striking the nuclear facilities in central and south Iran. 

Israel may have already discussed or will discuss similar arrangements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

A potential Israeli campaign against Iran’s nuclear program would require more than 20 fighter aircraft, including F-35I stealth fighters, and many other logistical support assets like aerial tankers. These assets need to be forward deployed and their flight paths carefully coordinated to ensure the operation’s success and a safe return for the Israeli pilots. Additionally, the operation would likely require special operations forces (SOFs), who would insert from nearby states. 

From Israel’s perspective, the issue of military action against Iran has become more pressing after President Trump’s electoral loss. President-elect Biden will likely have a softer stance on Iran. Biden has already promised to re-join the nuclear deal with Iran if Tehran promises strict compliance. At the moment, these plans are nevertheless speculation. There are no troop movements or logistical preparations that suggest an imminent attack against Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia are likely trying to establish common ground should the military option be on the table in the future.  

MISSILE STRIKE ON JEDDAH

Hours after the Neom meeting ended, the Yemeni Houthi militia launched a cruise missile strike on an Aramco petrochemical plant in Jeddah. Geolocation of social media material confirms the event and location. 

Geolocation confirms authenticity and location of an Instagram video that claims to show a fire at the Aramco facility in Jeddah (T-Intelligence)

The Yemeni Houthi militia claims to have debuted the Quds-2, one of the many missiles Iran is secretly developing for its proxies. Quds-2 is believed to be a spin-off of Iran’s Soumar or Ya-Ali missiles. 

Launched from an undisclosed location in northern Yemen, the Quds-2 missile traveled 640 km (400 miles) to Jeddah, the militants claim. 

While the Houthi already possess ballistic missiles (BM) that can strike targets 1,000 km away, the increased range of the militants’ low-observable (LO) munition is concerning. LO munition like cruise missiles and so-called “suicide drones” can bypass the Saudi PAC-2 air defenses designed to counter BMs. 

Battle damage assessment shows minimal damage at the Aramco plant in Jeddah. One crude oil storage tank was disabled, and the blast scarred a second tank. 

Battle Damage Assessment shows minimal damage on Aramco facility in Jeddah (imagery: Planet Labs, Inc.; assessment: T-Intelligence)

The attack was a clear message from Iran. It serves as a reminder of Iran’s massive missile stockpile and proxy network in the Middle East. 


by HARM

Editing by Gecko

Our findings were first published as a Facebook post on 23 November 2020.

This article was produced using Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT). Learn more about OSINT here

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What We Learned From Israel’s Latest Airstrike Spree in Syria

Over the past eight years, The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has conducted over 300 “unclaimed” airstrikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its axis of transnational Shiite militias (the…

Over the past eight years, The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has conducted over 300 “unclaimed” airstrikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its axis of transnational Shiite militias (the Iranian Threat Network/ITN) in Syria. Israel’s covert air campaign aims to avert an Iranian entrenchment in Syria and prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and other militias that threaten Israel. 

In 2020, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has conducted 14 operations in Syria (by the date of the publication of this analysis). The IAF operations have targeted at least 23 different locations all over Syria, except for the northeast corner. Five of the 23 airstrikes occurred in the two weeks between 20 April and 4 May, indicating an increase in Iranian threat network (ITN) activity. 

Thanks to ImageSatInternational’s battle-damage assessments and reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as well as social media intelligence (SOCMINT), we were able to draw the following conclusions:

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME

The recent Israeli airstrikes in the provinces of Quneitra, Suweida, Da’ara, and the Damascus area indicate that the IRGC’s external operations branch, the Quds Force (IRGC-QF), and the ITN still hold positions near the Israeli border despite Russian statements to the contrary. 



Southern Syria has been the IAF’s primary area of operations for the past eight years. The vast majority of IRGC weapon shipments end up in Syrian military bases around Damascus and warehouses across the Lebanese border. With the Israeli-held Golan Heights just a stone’s throw away, Jerusalem is concerned that the ITN will use southern Syria as a springboard to attack Israel.

The IAF has also raided Damascus International Airport (DAI), where IRGC-linked airliners deliver missiles, munitions, and other weapons. While DAI is probably one of the most recurrent targets of the IAF, the airstrike on 13 February 2020 marked a premier. After years of hesitation, the IAF bombed the IRGC’s headquarters in Syria, a three-floor glasshouse near the airport entrance. By the time of the strike, the Glasshouse had nevertheless become a symbolic target due to extensive media coverage. 

Like before, the IAF has also prosecuted high-value targets (HVT) targets on Syrian soil. In late February, the IAF successfully neutralized the local Hezbollah operative Imad Tawil who was driving in the town of Hader, near the Israeli border. Imad Tawil was facilitating Iran’s efforts to secure a foothold on the Golan Heights, according to local media reports.  

On 18 April, an Israeli drone unsuccessfully targeted Hezbollah commander Mustafa Mughniyeh, son of the group’s late second-in-command Imad Mughniyeh near the Lebanese border. As video surveillance seems to show, Mustafa Mughniyeh and his security detail managed to flee the vehicle before the bombs hit. 

ABU KAMAL IS THE NEW FLASHPOINT

The Syrian-Iraqi border became the IAF’s new focal point after IRGC-backed forces captured the town of Abu Kamal from ISIS in late 2017. Because of its geostrategic position, the border crossing near Abu Kamal is a critical node in Iran’s logistical land-bridge, which stretches from Iran to Lebanon (the “Shiite Crescent”). All Iranian weapons that enter Syria via Iraq have to pass through Abu Kamal. 

In 2019, Iran built an underground super-warehouse, called “Imam Ali” garrison, to shelter some of the cargo entering Syria. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), an umbrella of over 60 Iraqi (mostly) Shiite militias loyal to Iran, control the Imam Ali site as well as the entire Syrian-Iraqi border. Kata’ib Hezbollah, Badr Organisation, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Asaib al-Haq, and the Imam Ali Brigades (IAB) are some of the most influential PMU groups invested in Syria.

Key Iraqi PMUs, also known as “Special Groups” by the CIA (T-Intelligence). NOTE: Kataib Hezbollah’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis died in a US airstrike in Baghdad in January 2020.

Other Shiite militias, including Brigade 313 (Syrian), the Liwa Fatemiyoun (Afghan Shiite Hazaras), and Liwa Zainbiyoun (Pakistani Shiite Zaidi) are also operating in the area and elsewhere in Syria. SOHR estimates that the Iranian threat network (ITN) has around 6,200 fighters in the Mid-Euphrates River Valley (MERV) area. 

Naturally, the target-rich Abu Kamal area has become a hotspot of IAF activity. In 2020, the IAF bombed IRGC-QF and PMU positions in eastern Syria on three different occasions (January, March, and May). 

In January, Israeli aircraft destroyed an IAB convoy near Abu Kamal, resulting in 8 Iraqi militiamen KIA. The Iraqis were reportedly delivering missiles to Hezbollah. During the same raid, the IAF also struck an arms depot in the same area. 

On 11 March, the IAF prosecuted PMU installations around Abu Kamal again, including the “Imam Ali” garrison. Later in May, Israel raided a series of militia positions throughout the MERV. Overall, the three operations killed at least 48 Iraqi militiamen and Iranian operatives. 

Maintaining maximum pressure on the Abu Kamal logistic node is imperative for denying Iran freedom of movement in Syria. The IAF needs to demonstrate that no matter the distance, Israel is willing and able to prosecute targets anywhere in the region. To make the point even clearer, Israel raided IRGC and PMU positions in Iraq five times last year. 

THE IRGC IS MOVING UNDERGROUND

The IAF’s recent airstrikes revealed that the IRGC is increasingly relying on underground storage solutions to protect its weapons from Israeli attacks. While the Imam Ali garrison is the largest storage facility, Iran has built many other underground depots throughout Syria. 

Battle damage assessment (BDA) of the 20 April 2020 strike shows that Israel bombed nine underground storage facilities north of Palmyra. The bunkers likely harbored weapons delivered either by land via Abu Kamal or by air to the nearby Tyias Air Base.

A week later, on 27 April, Israel bombed a similar facility in Mezzeh Air Base in Damascus. While the airstrike damaged the entrance to the depot, it is unknown whether it also destroyed the underground bunker. Partly operated by the SyAAF Intelligence Directorate, one of the IRGC’s closest Syrian partners, Mezzeh Air Base is a safe-haven for Iran’s militias.  

If Iran continues to build storage bunkers, it will force Israel jets to fly with ground-penetrating ordnance instead of cruise missiles. As bombs have a smaller operational range than cruise missiles, the Israeli jets will need to fly closer to their targets, which will expose them further to Syrian air defenses. For example, the Delilah cruise missile can be fired from a maximum distance of 250 km away. In comparison, the GBU-39 small diameter bomb, which has a warhead four times bigger than Delilah’s, is only capable of traveling 64 km in ideal circumstances. A hardened penetration bomb as the BLU-109, with an 874 kg warhead, will require a release from an ever closer range. An increased payload also translates into a larger aircraft radar-cross section, making it easier for Syrian radars to detect the IAF jets, and a decreased flight maneuverability and range. 

An Israeli F-16I armed with a BLU-109 forged steel point tip, and a BLU109 JDAM, 2000lb bunker-buster penetration bomb.

ISRAEL CONTINUES TO DEFY THE SYRIAN S-300

Israel’s daring strikes near Homs and Shayrat, deep inside the engagement range of Syria’s S-300’s (NATO reporting name: SA-20B “Gargoyle”), have proved again that the IAF enjoys air superiority over Syria. While there are also topological and tactical factors at play, it is virtually certain by now that Russia, who gifted the S-300 to the SyAAF, has forbidden the Syrians from using it against Israeli aircraft (read more about the S-300 issue here).

Masyaf-based SA-20B approximate engagement range via T-Intelligence. (Radar detection is not modeled on the area’s topography)

On 31 March, the IAF disrupted flight operations at Shayrat Air Base by bombing the runway and air traffic control equipment. The attack also destroyed a warehouse, likely harboring Iranian weapons. However, after the Syrians patched the runway craters up and replaced the navigation beacons, aerial activity at Shayrat resumed within two weeks. 

On 1 May, another Israeli raid, this time near Homs, shook the earth when it destroyed a weapons depot, setting off a chain of secondary explosions. As the BDA shows, the Israeli attack has completely wiped out the warehouse and the adjacent parking lot.

HEZBOLLAH IS STILL RECEIVING PRECISION-GUIDED MISSILES 

On 4 May, Israeli missiles struck a missile production facility in al-Safirah, an area south of Aleppo. The al-Safirah plant is one of three facilities that are associated with the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), the regime’s prime proliferator of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). While the SSRC has traditionally focused on producing Scud ballistic missiles and chemical agents for the Syrian regime, it now works under Iranian control to “home grow’ precision-guided munition (PGM) for Hezbollah and other groups. 

Back in 2016, Iran initiated a back-up plan to funnel PGM technology to Hezbollah, as a response to the relentless Israeli raids. Instead of struggling to deliver ready-made missiles, the IRGC shifted to smuggling GPS conversations kits and missile components to Hezbollah. Under Iranian supervision, Hezbollah engineers learned to produce the weapons themselves. Using specialized facilities, they aim to convert Hezbollah’s inventory of 150,000 “dumb” rockets into PGM (you can read more about the Iran-Hezbollah PGM program and Israel’s response to it, here).

In 2019, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) publicized the location of four such missile conversation and production sites in Lebanon, indicating that Iran PGM’s program is bearing fruit.

The PGM program, as all Iran extraterritorial activities, was directly supervised by the late Gen. Qasim Soleimani. Likely, his sudden assassination in Baghdad earlier this year interrupted the operation.  



However, the IAF’s airstrike on 4 May brought new evidence that Iran’s PGM “do-it-yourself” program is continuing and proliferating also inside Syria. If this is true, then Hezbollah and other militias hostile to Israel are still obtaining advanced striking capabilities from Iran despite Israel’s extensive air campaign for nearly a decade. 

Should Hezbollah manage to convert even a quarter of its inventory of 150,000 “dumb” rockets into missiles that can strike targets with pinpoint accuracy, Israel’s national security will be severely threatened.  


by HARM

Editing by Gecko

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Iranian Navy Bombs, Sinks Own Vessel

The Iranian Navy “Jamaran”, a Moudge-class frigate (IRIN-76) mistakenly hit an Iranian patrol vessel, “Konarak,” during a military exercise off the coast of Jask in the Sea of Oman. Officials say…

The Iranian Navy “Jamaran”, a Moudge-class frigate (IRIN-76) mistakenly hit an Iranian patrol vessel, “Konarak,” during a military exercise off the coast of Jask in the Sea of Oman. Officials say 19 sailors died, but rumors indicate that the death toll is as high as 30. The Iranian Navy initiated search and rescue to recover the wounded. Some of the survivors were evacuated to a hospital in Chabahar. 

FRIENDLY FIRE

Konarak was probably sailing in the designated “splash zone” or trajectory of Jamaran’s anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), likely a “Noor” (copy-cat from the Chinese C-802), when the missile launched. Noor likely locked on Konarak, the closest and largest vessel it encountered when it turned on the radar for final target-acquisition. Alternatively, it could have been a targeting mistake from the Jamaran crew. 



A similar incident took place earlier this year when an IRGC missileer downed a civilian airliner (flight PS75) that departed from Imam Khomeini in Tehran, killing all 176 passengers. When it finally admitted to the wrong-doing, the IRGC claimed that it mistook the plane for an American bomber. Incidents like these raise questions over the Iranian military’s competency and preparedness.

UPDATE: As suspected, Konarak was laying targets for the training exercise, but did not vacate the area in time. Iranian media also released footage of the catastrophic damage inflicted on the Konarak. The ASCM wiped out the vessel’s bridge, which explains the high death toll, and destroyed the midship region.

THE NOOR: IRAN’S FAVORITE “SHIP KILLER”

With an engagement range of 120 km and a 165 kg warhead, Noor is notorious for its deployment during the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006. The IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) delivered hundreds of Noor ASCMs to its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, during the confrontation to enforce a coastal blockade against the Israeli Navy. One Noor managed to hit one Israeli corvette, the INS Hanit, killing four crewmembers.

Iran’s Noor (C-802) ASCM

The IRGC has also proliferated the Noor to its Yemeni allies, the Houthi. In 2016, an anti-ship missile hit an Emirati transport ship off the Yemeni coast. A week later, a salvo of similar weapons unsuccessfully targeted the USS Mason in the Red Sea. Missile forensics identified the Noor/C-802 as the striking platform. Noor/C-802’s NATO/ ASIC reporting name is “CSS-N-8 Saccade.” 



IRREGULAR WARFARE ON THE SEAS   

Iranian Navy and the IRGC-Navy exercises regularly feature the Noor/C-802. Small boat “swarms” and anti-ship missile saturation strikes are at the core of Iran’s maritime “guerilla warfare” strategy. The latest incident comes as Iran’s parallel navies are increasing readiness in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Sea of Oman. Tensions between U.S. and Iran spiked again after small Iranian vessels harrassed a convoy of American ships transiting the Sea of Hormuz last month.

The April incident led to a verbal exchange between Washington and Tehran, with both sides threatening to shoot each other. Despite the strong rhetoric, the Strait of Hormuz and adjacent waters are much calmer than last year. During the Summer of 2019,  Iran shot down an American drone over international waters and covertly attacked oil tankers linked to the Gulf states and seized British vessels. 

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Iran’s Space Launch Advances Ballistic Missile Tech, Violating U.N Sanctions

With the successful space launch of the “Nour-1” spy satellite on April 22, the Islamic Republic of Iran has likely violated international sanctions. The trouble with Iran’s recent space launch…

With the successful space launch of the “Nour-1” spy satellite on April 22, the Islamic Republic of Iran has likely violated international sanctions. The trouble with Iran’s recent space launch is the delivery platform – the Qased Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) – not the payload – the “Nour-1” military satellite (mil-sat). As SLV technology is interchangeable with ballistic missile (BM) technology, space launches can help to extend missile range, increase stability and payload capacity. 

Noor/ Nour-1 mil-sat launch on 22 April 2020. GEOINT analysis by T-Intelligence / Image courtesy of Planet Labs.



SPACE LAUNCH VEHICLE: FROM AND FOR BALLISTIC MISSILES

The “Qased” SLV (Courier in Persian) is a hybrid between the “Shahab-3” medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), with which it shares the first liquid-fuel stage, and the “Salman” solid rocket engine that provided the technology for the second stage. The third stage is likely also solid-fuel based. The multi-stage rocket allowed Qased to reach an apogee of over 420 km, despite its heavy payload. 

Iran’s proven ability to develop three-stage solid-fuel rockets, capable of boosting the payload at longer ranges and to higher altitudes than before, is a breakthrough in the pursuit of long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which could reach the United States and all of Europe.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, stands in front of the Qased before launch. Photo credit: Tasnim news.

This is why Iran violated UNSC Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran to avoid “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

PAYLOAD ENABLES IRANIAN GEOINT CAPABILITY

Having the Nour-1 satellite in space is not a game-changer, although this will enable Iran to collect Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) without depending on third-parties. The mil-sat operates in the Low-Earth Orbit, namely in a 444 x 426 km orbit at 59.8 degrees inclination, and circles the Earth every 90 minutes (high temporal resolution), which makes it ideal for remote sensing. Nour-1 is believed to have a reasonably high resolution and will reportedly be joined by two other spy satellites in the future.

The upper photo shows Nour-1 completing a pass over the continental United States. The lower photo shows the satellite high above the northern Arabian peninsula. (Screenshot from a satellite tracker)

Nour-1’s success is, however, largely political and for domestic consumption. On the one hand, the launch has broken the decade-long spell of unsuccessful launches and stagnant research. On the other hand, it validated the IRGC-AF’s space program, which was responsible for the space launch, to the detriment of the Iranian Space Agency.

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U.S. Navy Intercepts Iranian Weapons Shipment to Yemen

The U.S. Navy interdicted an illicit shipment of advanced Iranian-made weapons and weapon components headed for Yemen in the Arabian Sea, on February 9, 2020. The discovery was made by…

The U.S. Navy interdicted an illicit shipment of advanced Iranian-made weapons and weapon components headed for Yemen in the Arabian Sea, on February 9, 2020. The discovery was made by the crew of USS Normandy (CG 60), a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser. The CG 60 launched a search party that boarded the stateless dhow and found a cache of weapons. The maritime security operation was conducted under international law.

The weapons seized from the dhow consist of:

  • 150 “Dehlavieh” missiles, which are the Iranian version of the Russian-made “Kornet” anti-tank missiles;
  • Three unidentified Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles;
  • Thermal imaging scopes;
  • Components of manned and unmanned aerial systems and surface vessels;
  • Munition;
  • Other weapon parts. 

Many of these weapons systems are identical to the advanced weapons and weapon components seized by the guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019. Those weapons were determined to be of Iranian origin and assessed to be destined for the “Ansar Allah” militia (the Houthis) in Yemen, which would be in violation of a UN Security Council Resolution 2216 that prohibits the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis. The same resolution encourages all states to inspect the sea and air cargo to Yemen.

The seized weapons are in U.S. custody awaiting final disposition. The assessment of the material will be an interagency and international effort. International partner nations and organizations have also been invited to inspect the cache.

IRANIAN WEAPONS SMUGGLING OPERATION IN YEMEN

Since the Yemeni civil war began in 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ external operations branch, the Quds Force (IRGC-QF), has illegally transferred large quantities of weapons to Houthi rebels. Tehran’s giveaways include Borkan ballistic missiles (derivative of Iran’s “Qi’am”), “Quds” cruise missiles (derivative of Iran’s “Ya-Ali”), the Iranian-made Sayyad 2-C surface-to-air missile, expandable-unmanned aerial vehicles and thousands of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and rockets. Iran uses small, low-visibility and elusive vessels, such as fishing boats and dhows, to freight weapons into Yemen. Sometimes the small vessels use ship-to-ship transfers to move or distribute cargo along the way. The U.S. Navy has periodically intercepted illicit weapons shipments in the Arabian Sea. However, the number of weapons interdicted represents a tiny fraction of the overall illicit seaborne cargo outbound from Iran. 

The Houthi has used these capabilities to attack petrochemical facilities, military installations and urban centers deep inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates in the past years. The Houthis also attacked oil tankers transiting the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Red Sea. Similar to the “Hezbollah model”, the Iranian support for Houthi has transformed the irregular militia into a hybrid force armed with advanced weaponry. A strong Houthi enables Iran to attack targets deep in the KSA and the Red Sea and to open a second front in case of a direct conflict with Riyadh. 

Waging war on the KSA is only one of Iran’s two strategic interests in Yemen. As part of its maritime strategy, Iran aims to control the two main checkpoints vital for international maritime shipping. Iran already controls the main one, the Hormuz strait, due to its territorial boundaries. But control over the second one, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, requires ashore dominance in Yemen. However, the Houthi only control Yemen’s western seaboard. An intervention by the UAE in 2015 managed to deny the Houthi and al-Qa’ida control over Yemen’s main ports in the south, Aden and Mukalla. 

Iran proved that it is willing to go beyond rhetoric in 2019 when the IRGC covertly attacked the Emirati port of Fujairah, oil refineries in KSA, and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, causing chaos on the oil market and temporarily disrupting international sea trade. 

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Iranian SA-15 SAM Downed Flight PS752 over Tehran, Intelligence Shows (CONFIRMED)

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a…

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a mistake caused by “human error.”

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down flight PS752 over Tehran, intelligence suggests. Based on SIGINT data collected by US agencies, the U.S., British, Canadian and Iraqi governments were able to confirm what the OSINT circle has been theorizing for the past days:


  • A Russian-made Tor M-1/2 SAM system (NATO Reporting name: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 shortly after the aircraft took off from Tehran – Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6.12 AM (local time) on Jan. 8, 2020. All 176 passengers died. The shoot-down was probably unintentional, but the theory of deliberate action cannot be excluded.

Iranian Tor-M1/2 (SA-15)

  • The IRGC-Aerospace Force (AF) fields numerous Tor M-1/2s for point air defense of sensitive facilities and long-range SAMs.
  • The aviation incident occurred five hours after the IRGC-AF launched a missile barrage at Iraqi installations hosting Coalition/ U.S. forces. It is very likely that the IRGC mistook/misidentified the PS752 for a US aircraft especially as Iran was tensely expecting an American retaliation for the earlier attack in Iraq.

HARD EVIDENCE:
  • Two photos showing the debris of a Tor M1/2’s (SA-15) surface-to- air missile (SAM) proximity fuse/”seeker” close to the crash site. Visual forensics certify the resemblance between the debris and the seeker section of a SA-15 SAM.

Debris of SA-15 SAM near PS752 crash site via T-Intelligence

  • A video showing an aerial detonation in the immediate proximity of flight PS752 while airborne. The “contact” is consistent with SAM interceptions.

*This is likely the second SAM launched (per “2-for-1” SAM engagement doctrine/ two missiles fired for one target). The explosion caused by the first SAM probably attracted everyone’s attention, hence why people started filming and caught the second SAM on tape. 

SOFT EVIDENCE:
  • Aircraft crash site is close to a known Tor M-1/2 deployment (within kinematic range).
  • As opposed to the Iranian position, the Boeing 737-aircraft did not attempt to return to the airport. The pilots instantly lost communications with the tower and did not send an SOS signal. Flight path post-contact rather suggests the loss of flight control mechanics than a return-to-base.



THE CLASSIFIED INTELLIGENCE
  • Three intelligence sources (two US and one Iraqi) told major news outlets that the U.S. Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites picked up radio-emission spikes, indicating radar activity, and detected two surface-to-air missile (SAM) launches shortly before the plane crashed. The U.S. CIA, NGA and DIA aero-space assets were virtually certain focused on Iran to gather early-warning and telemetry data on possible missile launches.
OFFICIAL RECORD
  • Iranian officials blamed the accident on a technical malfunction such as a critical engine failure and dismissed the theory that its missiles brought the plane done. However, Iranian officials said they will not provide the plane’s “block box” to the other countries involved in the investigation. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation claimed that the plane would have “dropped” from the sky if hit by a missile, while video evidence shows the aircraft ablaze and descending before exploding.
  • However, THAT IS INCORRECT. Point air defense systems such as Tor M-1/2 use proximity fuze, designed to detonate the SAM when entering the target’s “kill-zone”, which increases interception chances, instead of a hit-to-kill kinematic solution (as other SAM systems use). Once detonated, the SAM’s warhead inflicts structural damage with the intent to destroy the target.

  • This is consistent with the PS752’s last minutes – ablaze, instantly losing control and radio-contact – before exploding. In addition, the PS752’s 8,000 feet altitude was within the Tor M-1/s’s engagement envelope.

European security officials agree with the US assessment. The Canadian government has already amended its official political position to include the latest US-supplied intelligence.

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Iran Retaliates with Ballistic Missile Strike at Coalition Bases in Iraq

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani.  SITUATION REPORT At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad…

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani

SITUATION REPORT

  • At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad time), the IRGC-Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) launched 15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Khermanshah (Iran) against Ain Al-Assad AB and Erbil AB in Iraq. 
  • Ten SRBMs targeted Ain Al-Assad AB and five Erbil AB (which also hosts Italian, British and German forces). However, four SRBMs malfunctioned on their way to Erbil and failed. At least one SRBM was reportedly intercepted by a US C-RAM system at Ain Al-Assad. FYI: There are no THAAD nor Patriot air defense systems deployed in Iraq. 
  • Judging by the engagement range and operational history, the IRGC-AF likely fired Qi’am-1 or Fateh-class SRBMs (e.g. Fateh-313). 
  • No known casualties resulted from the strike, but the US Department of Defense and the Iraqi Security Forces are still in the process of conducting a battle damage assessment. 

Preliminary determination of the IRGC-AF’s SRBMs’ flight path from Iran to their targets in Iraq via T-Intelligence

  • Unconfirmed reports indicate that inbound missile warnings were issued, allowing Iraqi and Coalition forces to take shelter in bunkers. This means that the SRBM launches were detected by US early warning assets such as aerial platforms, satellites or ground-based radars. All US bases in the region and joint Coalition-Iraqi facilities in Iraq have been on high alert since early January. 
  • Iran has officially claimed the attack. The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, called the attack “proportional”. Follow-up strikes are not expected.
  • The direct Iranian SRBM attack on Coalition forces is unprecedented, although very ineffective. If the DOD’s BDA proves that there are no human or major infrastructure losses, the chance of a US response are low. Both the US and Iran are interested in de-escalating the confrontation without losing face.

PRELIMINARY-BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

This section will be updated when new information becomes available. 



ANALYSIS

We assess with a high degree of confidence that the IRGC’s SRBM salvo at targets in Iraq was ineffective due to technological malfunction and careful pre-planning to mitigate US/Coalition losses. By mounting a major but non-lethal attack, the IRGC hoped “to kill two birds with one stone:” 

  • High internal expectations. The IRGC satisfied Iran’s internal thirst to avenge the death of Iran’s “national treasure” Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani and claim success. The IRGC claims it killed “80 Americans and destroyer several aircraft.” 
  • Controlled escalation. The IRGC hopes to dissuade U.S. President Trump from ordering counter-attacks that could lead to an open armed conflict.

The IRGC’s plan should work, in theory. We know that for the past few days, the United States Department of State was engaged in back-channel negotiations with Iran via Qatar, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and Oman. Washington’s message was clear: “we expect a retaliation from you but it must be proportionate. American losses are off-limits and will trigger additional air strikes.” Washington enforced its threat with the swift deployment of 6,000 forces (consisting of paratroopers, marines and special forces) to the Middle East for contingency operations.

It seems that Iran obeyed the “rules of the game.” Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime Minister claims that Tehran notified him before the strike and then he notified the U.S, therefore helping the Coalition prepare for the “missile rain”. Despite Tehran’s efforts to craft a balanced aggression, the IRGC’s attack was unprecedented as it directly targeted a site housing US forces and used BMs. Tehran threaded carefully but still walked a thin line. 

While impossible to predict President Trump’s next step, the chances of a U.S. military counter-strike have significantly decreased due to the lack of human losses. If Washington greenlights another strike, it will very likely target BM launchers, SAM systems and Command & Control (C2) nodes in western Iran. The objective of a new military attack would be to reduce the IRGC’s capability to plan, mount and execute BM attacks and “knock-off the door” (destruction/ suppression of enemy air defense systems) for follow-up air strikes, if required. The hypothetical scenario will likely lead to an low-intensity open conflict, restricted to air-naval engagements, between the two parties. However, there is no indication at this time suggesting that the U.S. President will follow an escalatory course of action

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Security Travel Alert for American and British Citizens

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary…

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) Major-General Qassim Soleimani, tensions have been high between Iran, which seeks retaliation, and the US-led International Coalition against ISIS. 


SECURITY RISK FOR FOREIGN CITIZENS

Even before the strike, intelligence suggested that Iran and its network of Shiite paramilitary groups – many sanctioned terrorist groups – were plotting to kidnap, attack or kill foreign citizens in Iraq, in particular U.S. diplomatic personnel. With the recent developments, the security risk for foreign citizens has significantly increased. Currently, there is also a risk that foreign nationals – in particular American and British – could be arbitrarily detained by security personnel in Iran, or by militiamen in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

MORTAR, ROCKET AND MISSILE THREAT

In addition, there is a heightened risk of mortar, rocket and missile attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). 

STAY AWAY FROM CROWDS

Angry crowds have taken to the streets to condemn the killing of IRGC-HQ Maj. Gen. Soleimani in the Middle East. Many demonstrations are led or coordinated by hostile militias, which could result in violence. You should avoid any rallies, marches, processions, and keep away from military sites.

FURTHER ADVICE: Please monitor your country’s foreign travel service for updates and editorial reviews. Things can change fast as the situation in the Middle East is extremely fluid. 


NATIONAL ISSUED ALERTS

U.S CITIZENS, BE ADVISED:

Most of the U.S Department of State (DOS)-issued travel warnings in the Middle East are not new and have remained unchanged for years. However, the DOS has reviewed and amended its travel advice for Iraq and Iran in the past two weeks. 

for U.S. DOS travel map go to travelmaps.state.gov

IRAN. Last updated on December 26, 2019. The DOS maintains the Level 4 Travel Advisory Level (TAL) – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iran. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iran due to risk of kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and detention for U.S. citizens. The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iran.

IRAQ. Last updated on January 1, 2020. The DOS maintains the Level 4 TAL – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iraq. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict. 

On December 31, 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the diplomatic compound. On October 18, 2018, the DOS ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  That institution has not reopened. Only the U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. 

BRITISH CITIZENS, BE ADVISED

 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has reviewed the Foreign Travel Advice (FTA) for Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Turkey. 

IRAN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise all British nationals against all but essential travel to Iran and against all travel to:

  • within 100km of the entire Iran/Afghanistan border
  • within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border
  • the province of Sistan-Baluchistan
  • the area east of the line running from Bam to Jask, including Bam

However, for British-Iranian dual nationals the FCO advise against all travel to Iran. If you’re in Iran, you should consider carefully your need to remain. If your continued presence is not essential, you should consider leaving. There is a risk that British nationals, and a significantly higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran. 

The criminal justice process followed in such cases falls below international standards. Iran does not recognise dual nationality. If you are a dual British-Iranian national and are detained in Iran, the FCO’s ability to provide consular support is extremely limited



IRAQ. As of January 4, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Iraq, except for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where the FCO continue to advise against all but essential travel. If you’re in areas of Iraq where the FCO advise against all travel, you should consider leaving by commercial means.

If you’re in Iraq or decide to travel, make sure you have robust contingency plans in place and keep these under review. You should keep up to date with the latest developments across the country, including via the media and this travel advice, avoid any rallies, marches or processions, and follow the instructions of local authorities.

SYRIA. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Syria, as all services of the British Embassy in Damascus are suspended and all diplomatic and consular staff have been withdrawn. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.



YEMEN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately. If you choose to remain in Yemen, you should minimise movement around the country and within cities and towns, monitor developments in the local security situation and follow other precautions in this travel advice. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Yemen. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.

TURKEY. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Turkish areas within 10 km of the border with Syria, except the city of Kilis. This amendment was brought in connection with the recent tensions in Iraq and augments the existing security alert concerning Turkey. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:

  • all other areas of Sirnak, Kilis (including Kilis city) and Hatay provinces
  • the provinces of Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari

GULF STATES. The FCO reviewed the FTA for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, KSA and Oman, but has not issued a warning against travel. However, all of these countries have pre-existing security alerts due to terrorism. The risk of terrorist attacks in the Gulf is likely or very likely (depending on the state). Exercise caution and regularly check the travel advice for each country.

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