From Gaza to Kyiv: Iran’s weapon supply and war crimes

Article published by, 23 May 2023. © Richard Kemp

A few days ago I was in Kyiv the night it was hit by the most intensive missile attack since the war began over a year ago. The city of three million people, the seventh most populous in Europe, was targeted by Russian hypersonic, ballistic, and cruise missiles and also by explosive drones.

Those drones were supplied to Russian forces by the Iranian regime, which also supplied and funded the manufacture of 1,468 missiles fired at Israel from Gaza the previous week. Only Israel’s and Ukraine’s sophisticated air defense systems prevented mass civilian casualties in both bombardments.

A woman in Kyiv explained to me the bitter irony of her friend’s family who had fled Iranian drones in the city for the safety of Israel, where they then found themselves under attack from Iranian missiles.

Adding insult to injury, some of Putin’s oligarchs that are deeply implicated in his war of aggression, and under international sanctions, are also now living in Israel, including Alexei Miller, Igor Sechin, Roman Abramovich, Boris Rotenberg, Vladimir Potanin, Viatcheslav Kantor and Igor Shuvalov.

In both Israel and Ukraine, many civilians have been killed or suffered life-changing injuries, severe psychological trauma, property destruction, deprivation of essential services, and economic harm — directly as a result of Iranian-sponsored weapons of war.

The regime has supplied large numbers of Fajr-3, Fajr-5, M302, and other missiles to terrorists in Gaza to attack Israeli civilians as well as technology and funds to produce rockets locally. They have openly admitted doing so.

Iran has also supplied drones and drone technology to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah; in July 2022 the IDF shot down three Iranian drones launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah towards the Karish gas field and the following month Islamic Jihad failed in an attempt to attack the Tamar gas rig with a drone fired from Gaza.

Tehran has denied supplying Russian forces with drones since the invasion in February 2022 but Western analysis of downed fragments proves this to be a lie, despite crude Russian efforts to conceal their origin.

The U.S., UK, and EU have sanctioned firms and individuals involved in procuring equipment for Iran’s drone program and supplying drones to Russia. The U.S. also sanctions Iranian government entities that support Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

In Ukraine, hundreds of lethal Shahed-131, Shahed-136, and Mohajer-6 Iranian drones have hit residential buildings, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, sewage treatment plants, and power stations. Many civilians have been killed and seriously injured. Earlier this month alone, in a single wave of overnight drone strikes in the Kherson region, 21 civilians were killed and 48 wounded.

It is illegal under international law to deliberately target civilians and civilian facilities and therefore, in both Israel and Ukraine, these attacks are war crimes. The perpetrators against Israelis are Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups; against Ukrainians, it is the Russian Federation. But in both cases, Iran shares culpability, aiding and abetting war crimes by funding and supplying weapons that are used against civilians.

In both conflicts, however, Iran’s culpability goes beyond supply. Tehran attempts to maximize the death tolls of terrorist groups attacking Israeli civilians, including by setting up a war room in Beirut to coordinate their murderous activities.

And according to the White House, Iran has deployed trainers and technical support teams onto the ground in occupied Crimea to assist Russian forces in firing drones into Ukraine.

Recent analysis also shows that Iran modified the warheads on its drones using layers of small metal fragments to maximize damage against infrastructure targets, such as power plants, that have been a major focus of attacks. Furthermore, Moscow and Tehran plan to establish a drone factory inside Russia to enable a larger and more rapid supply, and that may already be in operation.

International war crimes prosecutions against Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be complicated because they are non-state actors and the Palestinian Authority, although treated by some as a quasi-state entity, is not in fact a state and does not have the capability to put a stop to their actions. Terrorist acts, some of which amount to war crimes, are prosecuted under Israel’s criminal code.

For Ukraine, it is more straightforward and Andriy Kostin, the country’s Prosecutor General, says more than 65,000 alleged Russian war crimes have already been documented with some trials ongoing and others already completed.

A Nuremberg-style tribunal to prosecute Russia’s crimes of aggression and war crimes is backed by many Western nations, and international investigations, including by the International Criminal Court, are underway.

Too little attention, however, has so far been given to Iranian complicity: it is essential that the Iranian regime and its weapons supply apparatus are held accountable and included in these processes, as German industrialists who assisted the Nazi murder machine were at Nuremberg.

That will all take years to reach fruition but meanwhile, punitive action against Iran can begin pretty much straight away. Large-scale, concerted civil litigation should be initiated against the Iranian government, its proxies, and the companies that facilitate its supply of weapons to both Russian forces and terrorists in Gaza and elsewhere.

This would enable funds and assets — perhaps running to billions of dollars — to be confiscated by the courts and used to compensate the victims of illegal attacks.

Many such actions have already been taken on behalf of victims of terrorism and war crimes by law firms such as MM-Law in Chicago and McCue Jury and Partners in London, including against the Iranian government, its terrorist instruments, central bank, and commercial banks facilitating terrorist activity.

An estimated $100 billion of Iranian funds remain frozen in banks around the world. These funds should be targeted to compensate Iran’s victims in Ukraine, Israel, and other countries where the ayatollahs spread terror through supplying weapons, and organizing and funding proxies to inflict violence on the local populations.

Further targets of legal action are Iranian banks and other corporate bodies that are involved as intermediaries enabling the provision of drone and weapons parts from third countries.

The US Foreign Sovereignty Immunity Act allows service of process, attachment of property, and execution of judgment against foreign states, their agencies, and instrumentalities that would otherwise be immune from prosecution in cases where U.S. citizens or dual nationals suffer harm as a result of their actions.

Other countries, such as Britain and EU states, who do not yet have such laws, should enact them as quickly as possible to enable similar action against Iran and other rogue states.

Those countries that assert the principles of universal jurisdiction are also in a position to allow civil legal action to confiscate funds and assets from Iran and associated entities that aid and abet crimes against humanity, terrorism, and war crimes, even if carried out by foreign nationals, against foreign citizens, and on foreign territory.

This applies to many countries in which Iranian sovereign funds and the assets of corporations that might be targeted for supporting war crimes are held.

The primary purpose of such legal action would of course be to compensate civilians and their families who suffered as a result of war crimes. But seizing substantial Iranian funds would also further discredit the regime and deprive it of resources to continue its malign actions, as well as inflicting severe damage on banks and other institutions that it depends on to launder funds and evade sanctions.

In addition to inhibiting and maybe deterring Iran, it would also send a warning to other countries considering supporting jihadist terrorism and Russia’s illegal war, such as China, which is known to supply drones and other weapon-related materials to Russia and missile technology to Iran, as well as assisting sanctions evasion; and South Africa, which has been accused of supplying weapons to Moscow.

Despite imposing sanctions on Iran for its military support to Russia, Western governments have not yet taken a hard enough line. Europeans and Americans remain intent on appeasement of the ayatollahs in order to coax them back into the deeply flawed Obama nuclear deal, the JCPOA.

If they were serious about curbing Iranian aggression, P5+1 members would already have triggered a snapback of UN sanctions under Security Council Resolution 2231, endorsing the JCPOA, which Tehran is violating by exporting drones of greater than 300 kilometers range to Russia.

Rather than cravenly seeking to mollify Iran, Western governments should use all the tools at their disposal to crack down on its export of terror, including encouraging and supporting civil litigation to seize funds.

Continued failure to vigorously deter and disrupt Iran will encourage it to carry on arming Gaza terrorists and other proxies, to increase the supply of lethal drones to Russia, and also in due course to equip Moscow with powerful long-range ballistic missiles that, combined, will multiply death and destruction against civilian populations in Israel and Ukraine alike.

Image: Wikimedia Commons