Russia, Iran turning Israel and Ukraine into ‘battlefield laboratories,’ experts say

Russia and Iran are using Ukraine and Israel as “battlefield laboratories” to probe at Western military vulnerabilities, experts told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Wednesday.

“Together, Russia and Iran are using Ukraine and the Middle East as battlefield laboratories to improve their weapons and develop techniques to overcome U.S. and allied defensive systems,” Dana Stroul, director of research at the Washington Institute, told lawmakers at a hearing on the “Despotic Duo.”

“Iran is extracting from Russia lessons in combined strike packages as well as insights into the strengths and weaknesses of Western-origin air and missile defense systems,” Stroul said in her written statement.

The hearing comes just days after Iran launched an unprecedented aerial attack on Israel. The Israeli military said Iran fired approximately 170 drones, 120 ballistic missiles and 30 cruise missiles; nearly all were shot down.

According to Stroul and other witnesses, Iran’s attack on Israel was “remarkably similar to Russian-perpetrated attacks on Ukraine.”

“Russia has leveraged the military and political exchanges with Tehran during the Syrian civil war to its benefit,” said Rep. Tom Kean (R-N.J.).

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Iran’s attempted strike on Israel “the best way to punish the aggressor and a manifestation of the tact and rationality of Iran’s leaders.”

According to experts at Wednesday’s hearing, Russia’s reliance on Iranian weapons to continue its invasion of Ukraine has shifted the balance of power in the nations’ relationship, lessening Russia’s sway over the regime, with Iran extracting more capabilities in return.

“One of the most recent developments that we must disrupt is increased Russian and Iranian weapons and munitions products that will today help Russia overrun Ukraine, but tomorrow could help Iran overwhelm Israel,” said Gabriel Noronha of the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America.

“Recently, leadership at the U.S. Central Command expressed worry that Russia may soon provide Iran with Russian SU-35 aircraft in exchange for Iranian drones and weapons,” Rep. Gabe Amo (D-R.I.) said.

“Just imagine what an attack [against Israel] with advanced fighters would have looked like,” Amo added.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warned the U.S. is letting its enemies strengthen each other, emboldened by “the perception of political irresolution and strategic drift emanating from Washington.”

“The Islamic Republic has received gold, cash, Russian diplomatic cover, captured Western weapons and contracts for advanced weapons like the SU-35,” Taleblu said in his written statement.

Lawmakers across the subcommittee called on the House to pass the long-stalled defense spending package for aid in Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, citing President Biden’s “strong support” announced in a statement Wednesday.

“I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed,” Biden said.

“The world’s on fire, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said.

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