Assaf Orion is a senior research fellow at Israel’s academy for nationwide Security Studies and director the the Israel-China study program. That is additionally an international other at the Washington Institute because that Near eastern Policy. Orion, a retirement brigadier general, was responsible because that strategic policy formulation, global cooperation, and military diplomacy in the Israeli Defense Forces.

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In the 1980s and 1990s, Iran got Soviet and North oriental missiles and also converted them to make its Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. Today, Iran produces its very own arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles. Exactly how did Iran develop up its own domestic missile industry? How has Iran innovated on earlier missile designs?

The beginnings of Iran"s missile modern technology were Soviet, phibìc Korean and also possibly Chinese. This basic technology was then turning back engineered, intensified and developed domestically. Phibìc Korea may have actually sold some of these designs come Syria, critical partner in Iran"s network, which includes rocket and also missile factory in Syria.

On ballistic missiles, the can be fried cover for Iran’s intercontinental missiles—including its participation in the Asia-Pacific space Cooperation company (APSCO)—is its room program. On cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, over there are number of Iranian derivatives the Chinese missiles, such together the C-802 and the C-704. Israel was on the receiving end of one Iranian C-802 launched by Hezbollah in 2006, and also in recent years comparable weapons were launched by Yemen"s Houthis versus U.S. And U.A.E. Vessels.


What duty do ballistic and also cruise missiles pat in Iranian armed forces strategy? space they meant specifically to deter attacks on Iran, or perform missiles offer offensive objectives too?

DIA estimate of Iran"s missile inventory (2019)

Strategically, there is no difference in between the ability to use missiles offensively and also using that attack potential for deterrence, compelling behavior readjust in an enemy or dissuading an adversary from action. Iran"s art of war is to prevent war as lot as possible; that is partly accomplished by repeatedly threatening war. The main formative period for Iranian grand strategy was the 1980-1988 war through Iraq. Class one: battle is i have lot of money in blood and also treasure. Lesson two: Don"t fight in ~ home and take your battle elsewhere—as far as possible from her borders. Lesson three: Don"t wage war with your own flesh and blood.

Direct warfighting is very costly, therefore Iran"s indirect technique to warfare. In its wars by proxy, Iran fights v other world hands from other people’s lands. Ballistic missiles are another aspect the indirect warfare. Quite than punching v the enemy"s military, Iran fires over another country’s defense systems, end its protective forces, and strikes directly at the rear—at that populace and also its strategic assets. This method shakes the "Clausewitzian trinity" of national security—the government, the military and the people—by undermining people’s confidence and their to trust in the government and also military. Throughout the Iran-Iraq in the 1980s, Iran to be the victim of a similar approach once Iraq shooting Scud missiles right into its cities.

When a country like Iran lacks an air force and needs range, it needs ballistic missiles. If that wants one more angle of penetration, it requirements cruise missiles. Hefty weight missiles and cruise missiles room superb platforms for shipment of atom weapons. It"s not an extremely cost-effective because that Iran to hurl fifty percent a ton of high explosives 1,600 km (994 miles). However if Iran put a atom payload on the missile, it would be a entirely different game. Missile ranges suggest what nations Iran is trying to engage, threaten or impress. They indicate a country’s implied strength to hurt, to express in the grammar the trajectories.

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What are the benefits and flaw of having missiles – fairly than fighter plane or drones – as the core of wait power? What other nations rely more on missiles than warplanes?

Countries the can’t bought to have actually an air force superior to its adversaries will opt because that missiles, the second-best option. One air force has much more flexible fire power, yet it is dependence on access on airfields, and also its plane are fragile to waiting defenses. Missiles are a substitute if airfields space threatened or as soon as air superiority is unattainable. Iran"s advancement of drones and also cruise missiles (which it showcased in army exercises in January 2021) needs to be very closely monitored since it might be make the efforts to take the next step forward in wait warfare with precision swarms the drones, lot of rockets, missiles and launching platforms, and saturation missile strikes that overwhelm rival defenses.

A Zolfaghar missile, through a range of 700 km (440 miles), at a armed forces parade in September 2016Dropping a bomb from a plane is normally much much more cost reliable than having to an increase a heavy warhead right into space. It"s cheaper to bomb from an airplane. However it"s commonly faster to hit a target utilizing a ballistic missile. A aircraft from Israel to Iran would take hours. A missile native Iran come Israel would take only minutes.

Iran is no the only country that counts on missiles. Syria had an air force but was always inferior militarily contrasted to Israel’s waiting power. So, it sought firepower with ballistic missiles and rockets, and also added chemical weapons for military and psychological impact. Syria exhausted most the its capabilities versus its very own population. That repeatedly assaulted populated locations with gift materials also after that pledged to disarm its chemistry arsenal. Yet Syria is meant to try to rebuild its military capabilities, i m sorry will count on what it can afford. Russia and Iran currently assist it with that rebuilding.

Other countries, notably China, back it has actually a far-reaching air force, rely heavily on a wide arsenal of missiles. North Korea also relies heavily on missiles. Rivals the the United says want come compensate or complement their worse aerial punch through missiles, which are weapons that have better penetration and different vulnerabilities than warplanes.


Iran has increased the arsenal of medium-range ballistic missiles that can strike targets as much away as 2,000 km (1242 miles). Iran has not yet occurred longer-range missiles, but the Revolutionary Guards have actually warned the they can in the future. Where has actually Iran supplied its medium-range missiles? against what targets? and why?

DIA estimates of missile arrays (2019)

An Iranian missile with a medium range of 2,000 kilometres (or 1,242 miles) can strike Israel come its west and Russia to its north. That could likewise hit every one of Iran"s neighbors—any that the Gulf states, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the main Asia republics—and as much as Egypt in phibìc Africa. But Iran has fewer missiles with a longer selection due come the price of launching a missile right into space.

Iran’s medium-range missiles room designed to impress, threaten and deter that neighbors and also rivals. Iran might threaten Saudi Arabia v missiles that have actually a selection of 1,000 kilometres to 1,500 kilometres (620 mile to 900 miles). Iran can threaten Israel v missiles that have actually a range of 1,500 km to 2,000 km (900 miles to 1242 miles). Iran would need cruise missiles with also longer varieties to struggle Saudi Arabia or Israel from several directions.


Why would certainly Iran desire intermediate-range missiles of 3,000 km to 5,500 km (or 1,864 miles to 3,400 miles), or intercontinental ballistic missiles, or anything higher than 5,500 km (or 3,400 miles) in the future? and what could be its major targets?

Europe would more than likely be the main target. European nations might come to be a target if they joined the United says in militarily an overwhelming the Iranian regime. Many missiles have actually strategic utility, not just military or physical impact. They might enhance Iran"s leverage in negotiations v strategic partners, prefer Russia, or adversaries, favor Western nations and NATO. Yet Iran’s pursuit of longer range missiles additionally has a turning back effect. Iran might provoke broader opposition and pushback if the boasts around its missile capabilities.

Iran’s missiles room not just for show. The longer range missiles rise Iran"s standing among nations with ballistic missiles. They raise Iran indigenous being just a Middle eastern power; Tehran i do not care a strength in Eurasia. If it developed intercontinental missiles, that could end up being a an international power.


At least 4 times — in 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021— the Revolutionary guards unveiled underground “missile cities” hidden along the Gulf coast. Why does Iran need to hide that is missiles? How daunting is it to find and destroy the missile cities?

Cruise missiles in an underground base follow me the Gulf

Such "missile cities" are mostly relevant to naval conflict about the Gulf. Iran deals with a tension between the capacity to to win quickly and also the survive of that missile arsenal. It’s a tricky balance. Iran"s built its missile cities to signal that it have the right to still inflict tremendous pain also if an enemy tries to crush it—so earlier off. The security of these missile cities is unclear. Uneven missiles that are mobile, the missiles save in underground framework are an ext vulnerable to air strikes. The much more a country invests in creating infrastructure, the an ext time an adversary has come prepare to respond to it. 



How specific are Iran’s missiles? How have Iran’s precision missiles readjusted the military balance of power in the middle East?

The difference between a an exact missile and also imprecise missile is in the probability the impact. An imprecise weapon system may require an ext missiles come hit a little target. A an exact weapon device usually needs fewer missiles to a target. One hit for every 20 launches is a bad ratio. One fight in every 5 or 10 launches is much better precision or a far better ratio. The missiles in plenty of Western militaries can acquire within a meter that a target v 90 percent accuracy.

Precision technology is important due to the fact that it counter missiles the mainly have psychological influence into cost-effective and much more accurate weapons. Specific missiles can take out power stations, armed forces headquarters, ships and also airfields, through rippling impact nationwide. Precision missiles allow Iran to pick the exact time and location the a strike. They allow Iran and also their proxies to conduct decapitation strikes against enemy targets, as the Houthi rebels did in striking Yemen"s cabinet in ~ the Aden plane in December 2020.

Small nations like Israel have few high-value targets the are considered “essential nodes.” If Iran has an ext precise missiles, Israel has a larger problem. Israel’s missile defense interception mechanism ignores projectiles that are most likely to miss out on their targets. If Iran’s missiles become more precise, Israel needs to invest in much more missile defense.


In February 2019, Iran tested a brand-new generation of long-range cruise missiles, which deserve to fly at lower altitudes and are harder for radar to detect. What benefits do cruise missiles have actually over ballistic missiles?

A Soumar cruise missile, through a range of 2,000 kilometres to 3,000 km (1243 miles to 1864 miles), on screen in march 2015Cruise missiles have the right to fly under the radar there is no detection. Castle can assault the exact same target from several directions. They additionally offer deniability. Iran deserve to mask beginning sites and later claim that a missile was released from Iraq or native Yemen, as it did v the attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September 2019. Iran can saturate a target through cruise missiles and also seek come disrupt waiting defense systems. Some cruise missiles can likewise maneuver so they"re harder come shoot down. They are great tools, return they room not perfect weapons.

But Iran is a so late arrival come cruise missiles, i beg your pardon involve an older technology. The United says has had Tomahawk cruise missiles since 1983. Iran"s cruise missiles probably don’t price one million dollars apiece. However they are great enough because they are an ext affordable and also still effective. 


What did U.S., Israeli and Gulf armed forces planners learn from Iran’s two missile attacks: The first was top top the Abqaiq and Khurais oil framework in Saudi Arabia in September 2019? The second was the ballistic missile assault on the Ayn al Asad airbase in Iraq—which was supplied by U.S. Troops—in January 2020? How have actually the joined States, Israel and also the Gulf states adjusted their army strategy in response?

Today, Iran’s missiles are more precise at shorter ranges—as was noticeable in the attack on Saudi Arabia—and at longer ranges too. Iran launched ballistic missiles in ~ jihadi targets in eastern Syria in June 2017. It fired missiles into Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2018. And also it win Ayn al Asad armed forces base in January 2020. Iran deserve to target specific structures, no just vast areas, periodically with real-time enlightenment by drones over the target. Iran’s capabilities space improving. 

The joined States, Israel and some Gulf nations have broadened their waiting defense systems. Once the Houthis threatened to attack Israel in 2019, Israel included missile detection and also defense systems dealing with south. The Israeli push reported the Israel deployed Patriot missile defense battery in Eilat top top the Red Sea. The unified States also flew B-52 bombers end the Persian Gulf as a warning versus attacking American targets.

The joined States, Israel and the Gulf every need much better early-warning, detection, interception and protection solution to defend against potential strikes by Iran or the proxies. They also need counter-strike capabilities. Iran"s aggression after Qassem Soleimani’s assassination decreased. It retaliated ~ above Ayn al Asad and also continued harassing the eco-friendly Zone in Iraq, however those assaults were more indirect and also were much less intense 보다 previous attacks on american in Iraq.


In 2019 and 2020, the United states deployed Patriot and THAAD missile defense systems in Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the joined Arab Emirates. Have the right to these defense solution intercept every Iranian cruise and ballistic missiles? just how else carry out U.S. Partners in the an ar defend against Iran"s missiles?

The general strategy in Israel has actually been to construct a multi-tiered missile defense device that operates at various ranges and altitudes.

Missile defenses are part of a systemic response that also involves intelligence, detection, integration, at an early stage warning, communication, and also civil defense. Israel probably has an 80 percent to 90 percent success price of interception. Yet if a nation is not ready or an attack is unexpected—as happened in the assault on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil facility—it has to decide wherein to allude its defenses.


Iran has supplied that is partners and proxy groups with a varied inventory of rockets, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. What is Iran’s goal? Which groups have got the most progressed missiles? Why?

The Iranian arts of indirect war will fight to the critical Lebanese, the critical Syrian, the last Afghani or the critical Pakistani militiaman. The myriad militias in Syria have recruits from all of these nations. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is the flagship that Iranian proxy warfare.

For Iran, hurling half a ton of explosives right into Israel native 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) away is expensive. It"s an ext cost-efficient to have proxies use missiles native closer range. In Lebanon, because that example, Hezbollah deserve to fire more rockets or short-range missiles and saturate that targets in Israel—and not need to spill its own blood. Hezbollah will do the job and Lebanon will certainly pay the price. Iran is waging a sluggish motion, low-burning war in which that is the mastermind, if the proxies room cannon fodder.

Saudi Arabia has the exact same problem. It has spent billions that dollars fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran’s prices to assistance the Houthis are more than likely in the 10s of numerous dollars.


In December 2020, Secretary basic Hassan Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had doubled its perform of precision-guided missiles in the ahead year. Iran additionally shipped kit to Lebanon to convert unguided rockets right into precision missiles. What is forced to convert the Zelzal-2, an unguided short-range rocket through a range of 210 kilometres (130 miles), right into a precision-guided missile v a range of about 300 kilometres (186 miles)? How many rockets have actually been converted? has actually Hezbollah’s bigger missile stock readjusted the balance of power through Israel? and also what has Israel done to counter Hezbollah’s arsenal?

Hezbollah has actually tens of countless short-range rockets—10 km to 40 kilometres (or 6 miles to 25 miles). It has actually thousands the medium-range rockets—50 kilometres to 100 kilometres (or 31 mile to 62 miles). It has hundreds the rockets that have the right to be fired number of hundred kilometers. The probably has dozens the missiles or rockets that go more than that. There space very good materials by the IDF showing how Hezbollah has actually modified its longer-range rockets. The kits add a ar to the rocket; they incorporate a navigational unit and also rotating fins the corrects a weapon’s course and allows it come maneuver.

A precise missile is much more accurate and more maneuverable, which add to an additional challenge for missile defense systems. Estimates published in the Israeli press case that Hezbollah has several dozen precision-guided missiles. That arsenal does not compare to Israel’s arsenal in either quantity or quality. Israel has tens of thousands of first-rate precision bombs, so that potentially could hit tens of thousands of targets.

An IDF video on Iran"s efforts to supply precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah

Israel can impose a terrible cost on Hezbollah yet that will certainly not compensate because that the damages it can inflict top top Israel. Hezbollah can use precise missiles to try to disrupt Israeli missile defenses. That could shot to assault Israel’s infrastructure. It could also try to disrupt Israeli army preparation due to the fact that the IDF is greatly reliant top top reservists who need be mobilized. Life in Israel could be disrupted if Hezbollah were to start bombing those nodes prior to Israel was fully mobilized.

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Hezbollah could also seek come terrorize Israel"s civilian population. In the 1980s, a quarter of Tehran’s population fled from Iraqi Scuds and the hazard of Iraq utilizing chemical weapons. From its very own experience, Iran knows exactly how to strategize the “war of cities.”

Israel has a multifaceted strategy come respond. Its civil defense device is much better than civil defense in one of two people Lebanon or Iran. Its at an early stage warning is better. The missile defense is world-class. Yet the Israeli armed forces prefers to damage missiles prior to they are launched with preemptive strikes. The IDF additionally wages a so-called “campaign between the wars” to preempt, disrupt and also degrade that adversary’s armed forces capabilities. Yet with Iran, that a long twilight struggle, in i m sorry both parties look for to avoid war. However this dynamic is not risk complimentary and may at some point escalate past the parties" cautious calculations.