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Iran showcases Shahed drones, missiles at Qatar's defense exhibition

This year’s Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference features Iranian drones, Russian warships and delegations from across Asia and Africa.
A picture shows the new Iranian drone "Mohajer 10" during Iran's defence industry achievements exhibition in Tehran on August 23, 2023. Iran unveiled on August 22 its latest domestically built drone that can fly at a higher altitude and for a longer duration with enhanced weapons capabilities, state media reported. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran is showcasing its growing arsenal of weaponry, some of which is being used in Russia's war in Ukraine, at a major maritime defense exhibition in Qatar this week. 

Officials from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region are participating in the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX), which began on Monday and will conclude Wednesday. The event was inaugurated by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

More than 150 companies and government entities were listed by DIMDEX as exhibitors. The companies work in a variety of sectors, including defense, engineering, aerospace, energy and technology. Russia, Italy, Oman, Pakistan and the United Kingdom sent warships to DIMDEX, according to the event’s website.

Iranian Mohammad Reza Ashtiani arrived in Doha on Monday and was scheduled to attend DIMDEX and hold talks with unspecified Qatari officials, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported.

Iran’s pavilion at DIMDEX featured drones, firearms, missiles and radar systems, including the Shahed-149 “Gaza” drone, originally unveiled in 2021, according to the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency.

Afghan media outlets including Pajhwok and TOLOnews reported that the Taliban’s acting defense minister, Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, attended DIMDEX. Mujahid planned to meet Qatari and other foreign defense officials in addition to attending the event, according to the reports.

Azerbaijan’s deputy defense minister, Agil Gurbanov, met Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah on Tuesday to discuss boosting bilateral military cooperation and toured the pavilion of Qatari defense giant Barzan Holdings, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a series of statements.

Somalia’s deputy defense minister, Abdifatah Kasim Mohamud, met with Attiyah on Tuesday as well to discuss unspecified issues of mutual interest, the official Somalia National News Agency reported.

Ethiopian Defense Minister Abraham Belay met Attiyah on Monday. The two discussed ways to strengthen joint defense capacity, according to the official Ethiopia News Agency.

There were additional delegations from Brazil, the United States, China, India, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, among others, according to DIMDEX’s website.

DIMDEX was last held in 2022.

Why it matters: The wide array of delegations and exhibitors is in line Qatar’s desire to maintain friendly relations with a variety of actors. Qatar hosts a US military base but also has close ties to Iran and hosts Hamas leaders.

The Taliban official’s attendance at DIMDEX is particularly notable. The Taliban has yet to be officially recognized by any state as the rightful government of Afghanistan. Some countries in the region do maintain contacts with the Taliban, however, including Qatar and Iran. Qatar hosted senior Taliban leaders for several years before the 2021 US withdrawal from the country.

Iran’s display of its weapons at the event comes amid Western scrutiny of the Islamic Republic’s support for proxies in the Middle East as well as Russia in the Ukraine war. In a Tuesday interview, UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps told the British magazine The House that Iran provided missiles to Russia, though he did not provide details.

Iran denied a Reuters report last month that said it had supplied ballistic missiles to Russia.

Qatar has its domestic reasons for hosting DIMDEX. Qatar’s defense spending is on the rise, increasing 27% to $15.4 billion in 2022, according to an April 2023 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Gulf state is seeking partnerships in order to boost its domestic defense manufacturing capabilities, the US’ International Trade Administration noted in late 2022.

Know more: DIMDEX is not the only major defense expo in the Gulf. Abu Dhabi hosts the International Defense Exhibition, aka IDEX, every two years. The 2023 event yielded more than $5 billion in deals.

Doha additionally hosts the Milipol Qatar event focused on homeland security. The next Milipol Qatar will take place in October of this year.