Iran’s armed-drone prowess reshapes security in Middle East

A deadly attack on an oil tanker by explosive-laden drones. Unmanned aircraft launched from the Gaza Strip hitting Israeli neighborhoods. Strikes on Saudi Arabian refineries and pipelines and on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Behind this wave of attacks, U.S., European and Israeli defense officials say: Iran and its allies across the Middle East. They say Tehran’s rapidly developing ability to build and deploy drones is changing the security equation in a region already on edge.

The drones themselves are often made with widely available components used in the ever-growing commercial drone market and by hobbyists, the officials say. Some mimic the designs of Israeli and American military drones.

“Developing a nuclear weapon would take years. With drones, just a few months,” an Iranian official told The Wall Street Journal. “Drones have changed the balance of power in the Middle East.”

Iran’s delegation at the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment on accusations that the country is behind the wave of drone attacks.

For decades, armed drones were almost exclusively the preserve of advanced militaries such as those of the U.S. and Israel. More recently, Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has made significant strides in developing effective, low-cost drones.

Tehran’s engineers rely on imported components to create aerial vehicles that can accurately strike targets at long distance and rapidly change direction to avoid air defenses and radar, say European and Middle Eastern security officials who have studied wreckages of the drones.