Post falsely claims that Iran sent modern Russian-made missile defence systems to Ethiopia

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Images of surface-to-air missile systems have been shared on Facebook in Ethiopia alongside a claim that the country’s army recently acquired them from Iran. This is false: the Iranian embassy in Addis Ababa rejected the claim and a military expert told AFP Fact Check that Ethiopia did not have the missile systems depicted. A database that tracks weapons purchases also showed no record of Iran supplying Ethiopia with the arms.

The Facebook post has been shared nearly 500 times in Ethiopia since it was published on June 27, 2021.

“Iran to sell 50 ballistic nuclear missiles to Ethiopia (...) 15 of these ballistic missiles will be delivered to Ethiopia within 10 days,” reads the Amharic caption, translated into English. 

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on June 29, 2021

The post includes three images of Russian-made S-300, S-400 and S-500 surface-to-air missile systems, which have a range of 250 kilometers and can simultaneously engage up to 24 aircraft, or 16 ballistic missiles. 

“In return, Iran will acquire from Ethiopia an unspecified volume of uranium, potassium and gold,” the caption reads further.

Iran has pushed ahead with its nuclear programme and the enrichment of uranium, despite sanctions and pressure from the United States to stop. 

Iran denies claim

The Iranian embassy in Addis Ababa dismissed the claim as “fake news”.

“Recently, there was no contact between high officials of the two countries and this allegation is fundamentally false and is fake news,” it told AFP Fact Check in an email  sent on June 29, 2021.

AFP Fact Check did not find any records of Ethiopia acquiring these types of ballistic defence systems, from Iran or any other nation, in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) database

In addition, Guy Martin, a military expert and editor of defenceWeb, told AFP Fact Check that the Ethiopian army does not have the weaponry specified in the Facebook post.

“Those claims are quite untrue, the only air defence systems Ethiopia received were Pantsir-S1 systems” he said. 

According to SIPRI's database, Ethiopia received four Russian manufactured Pantsir S1 air defence combat vehicles in 2019. 

Truck-mounted Pantsir-S1 air defence system seen on Ethiopia's national telivison, screenshot taken on June 7, 2021

What the images show

The three images shared on Facebook show S-300, S-400 and S-500 surface-to-air missile systems. 

AFP Fact Check ran several reverse image searches and managed to trace the images to articles unrelated to Ethiopia. 

The first image was published in 2018 by Israeli website Kountrass in an article discussing S-300 long-range air defence missile systems delivered to Syria by Russia. 

Screenshot of the first image in the false Facebook post, taken on June 29, 2021

The second image from 2015 shows Russian S-400 vehicles. The photograph can be found in the Associated Press (AP) archives. According to the caption, the original image was supplied by the press service of Russia's defence ministry. 

Screenshot of the second image shared on Facebook found on AP, taken on June 29, 2021

The last image, which shows Russian S-500 missile systems, has been online at least since 2017. AFP Fact Check traced the image to an article published on the Defense World website discussing Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s interest in buying military hardware from Russia. 

Screenshot of the thirst image shared on Facebook, taken on June 29, 2021

AFP Fact Check recently debunked a false claim that the Ethiopian army acquired modern military trucks when in fact the video showed German army vehicles.

Translated by