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Iran: The Middle East’s Missile Superpower?

Iran's missiles. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Iran is no match for the United States or China and several other nations in raw military capabilities. Nonetheless, Tehran has built up a massive number of missiles to ensure anyone who tries to attack or invade would be punished in the most awful of asymmetric ways: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps debuted an unidentified air-launched cruise missile during its annual Army Day parade last month. According to experts, the weapon’s trapezoidal grid fins indicate it could be equipped with some sort of homing guidance. The Guard also displayed its new Shahed-136 suicide drone.

Iran’s leadership often uses military parades to showcase its evolving arsenal and demonstrate that it has kept pace in the global arms race. In fact, Iran boasts the largest and most versatile ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East.

Missile Cities

The Iranian government has invested heavily in its ballistic missiles program in recent years. Since 2015, three previously hidden underground missile complexes have come to light. Analysts believe ballistic missile storage and launch sites likely accompany each so-called missile city that is unveiled.

Iran has more than 3,000 ballistic missiles, according to Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. This arsenal includes various accurate, short- and medium-range solid-fuel missiles. “At a military level my concern is first of all that they do not have a nuclear weapon, but I am also very concerned about the remarkable growth and efficiency of their ballistic missile program,” McKenzie said.

In February, Tehran displayed its homegrown Khaybar Sheikan missile. With a range of 1,450 kilometers (900 miles), the weapon is capable of targeting the rogue state’s adversaries. Since Iran’s military lacks airpower and precision-strike capability, it relies on its missile development program to be able to strike its neighbors. The regime’s proxies are active across the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq, and these groups would not function without a constant supply of weapons transferred from Iran.

An Offensive Focus

In March, the Guard Corps claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near a U.S. Consulate compound under construction in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have carried out dozens of rocket attacks targeting U.S. assets in the region before. However, the use of ballistic missiles in this attack marks an escalation.

Missiles can carry out defensive and offensive functions. While Tehran insists its emphasis on weapons development is purely defensive, its support of offensive actions carried out by proxies in the region indicates otherwise, and Iran’s ideological ambition centers on exporting the Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s buildup of ballistic missiles specifically poses a threat to Israel and to U.S. personnel in the Middle East. More concerning, Iran’s nuclear breakout time has shrunk to mere weeks. While its military will still need to develop the core of the weapon and attach it to the warhead of a missile, Iran is getting closer to doing just that.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.



  1. Gary Jacobs

    June 6, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Interesting article, but the fitting extension of it would be what the US and Israel are doing to counter Iran’s missiles. What is the status of Scorpius in Israel? That’s the AESA radar based electronic warfare based missile defense system. My understanding is that the US Navy has a similar system coming along as well.

    There is also Israel’s Iron Beam, and AKPWS can now be used for cruise missile defense based on testing in the US… a single Apache can carry close to 100 of those. etc.

    Let’s also hear about how Iran’s belligerency is bringing Arabs and Jews closer together. The UAE and Israel just signed an FTA, and Israeli drone tech was helping to defend Expo 2020 in Dubai.

    Bottom line: this feels like an unfinished article that had a chance to be much better than it actually is. Perhaps 1945 should hire me to be their Israel affair writer.

    • Hussain

      June 7, 2022 at 9:44 am

      Iran with so much progress despite sanction could have made 200 nuclear bombs, but Leadership does not lie as Israeli PM. Ember the famous quote that Iran will have a bomb in 2 month, now 10 years old.

  2. Voyo

    June 10, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    This article, much like many other western news sources, emphasizes on Erbil missile target at or near US consulate. However, they all hide the fact that the target was an Israeli sabotage and terrorism operational center that planned covert activities in Iran. Israel has kept a total silence on the real target of Iranian missiles in Erbil. Israeli military policy is to never disclose information specifically when there are Istaeli casualties. The author of this article followed Israeli protocol misleadong readers about the Iranians real target but there is no surprise there as the author has strong connections with Israeli defence establishment. With that, her journalistic integrity is highly questionable.

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