The range of our missiles covers all of Israel today. That means the fall of the Zionist regime, which will certainly come soon.
— General Mohammad Ali Jafari, (November 2014)
Iran is one of America and Israel’s foremost enemies, and the Islamic Republic has become one of the most serious threats to stability in the Middle East.
Iran’s conventional military capabilities continue to improve. Naval forces are adding new ships and submarines while expanding bases on the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. In addition, Iran continues to expand the breadth of its naval operations. Iran deploys naval ships into the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea for counter-piracy operations and, in 2011 and 2012, deployed two separate groups to the Mediterranean Sea, right off the coast of Israel.
In early 2012, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Ground Resistance Forces conducted a series of exercises in northeastern and central Iran. The exercises were the first significant exercises conducted by the IRGC-GRF since its reorganization in 2008. The exercises consisted of combined-arms maneuvers and were meant to show the unit’s offensive and defensive capabilities (Annual Report on Military Power of Iran, Pentagon, January 2013).
As of 2019, Iran was ranked as the 14th most powerful military in the world while Israel was ranked 17th (Global Firepower).
Total artillery: 4,598
Total Aircraft: 509
Patrol Vessels: 88
The UN banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010, preventing Iran from replacing its aging equipment. As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, it was agreed the arms embargo would end in October 2020. The United States wants the UN to reimpose sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not extend the embargo as provided under the snapback provision of the JCPOA.
The GCC, with prodding from the United States, supports renewing the ban because Iran has “not ceased or desisted from armed interventions in neighboring countries, directly and through organizations and movements armed and trained by Iran” (“In Rare Unified Statement, Gulf Arab Bloc Backs Extending UN Arms Embargo on Iran,” Associated Press, August 10, 2020).
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Iran’s ballistic missiles challenge U.S. military capabilities and U.S. influence in the Middle East.” U.S. intelligence indicates that “Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.” The Pentagon also believes that Iran’s missiles threaten “U.S. forces, allies, and partners in regions where the United States deploys forces and maintains security relationships” (Congressional Research Service, December 2012).
The National Council of the Resistance of Iran, an Iranian opposition group, said that, beginning in 1989, North Korea helped Iran build dozens of underground tunnels and facilities for the construction of nuclear-capable missiles (ABC News, November 21, 2005). According to an intelligence assessment from July 2005, Iran was aggressively trying to obtain the expertise, training, and equipment for developing a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe (Guardian, January 4, 2006).
Iran was the third most active country in flight-testing missiles in 2007, behind Russia and China. “They’re developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel,” according to the head of the United States’ missile defense program Lt. Gen. Henry Obering said. “Why are they developing missiles today that will be possible to reach Europe in few years?” (Associated Press, January 17, 2008). Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September 2009: “The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies” (US Department of Defense, September 17, 2009). Iran claims the Shahab-3 is entirely Iranian-made, but U.S. officials say the missile is based on the North Korean “No Dong” missile design and produced in Iran. The United States also accuses China of assisting Iran’s missile program.
In May 2009, Iran tested a new missile, the Sejil (Ashura), with a range of 1,200 miles, meaning that it could reach Israel, U.S. regional bases and southeastern Europe (The Peninsula, May 21, 2009). The Sejil is similar to the Shahab-3, which was unveiled in September 2007. That missile’s range had been improved from 810 to 1,125 miles (JTA, September 23, 2007). The missile, which is capable of carrying a non-conventional warhead, could be stationed anywhere in Iran and reach Israel as well as parts of Europe. “I won’t say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future,” said Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, “but they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe” (RIA Novosti, March 12, 2009).
Iran reportedly tested a Shahab-4 missile designed to have a range of 4,000 kilometers in January 2006. In addition, Iranian opposition figure Alireza Jafarzadeh told the AP that Iran is now producing 90 Shahab-3missiles, more than four times its previous production rate (Scotsman.com, March 2, 2006). In January 2007, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said North Korea and Iran are cooperating in developing long-range missiles. Iran, he said, is also working on a space launcher that could allow it to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the U.S. (Washington Times, January 30, 2007). Iran said in November 2007, it had built a new missile with a range of 1,250 miles (Reuters, November 27, 2007).
In 2010, the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that Iran “continues to develop ballistic missiles capable of targeting Arab adversaries, Israel, and central Europe, including Iranian claims of an extended-range variant of the Shahab-3 and a 2,000-km medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), the Ashura. Beyond the steady growth in its missile and rocket inventories, Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems with accuracy improvements and sub-munition payloads.”
British Foreign Minister William Hague told Parliament in June 2011 that Iran had conducted three secret tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929. It was reported that Iran launched a Shahab-3 missile and one or two Sejil-1 missiles. The UK believed Iran wanted to avoid attracting attention to the tests of these medium-range missiles (Associated Press, June 29, 2011).
Iran also reportedly has an arsenal of cruise missiles. In March 2005, Ukraine admitted that it had exported to Iran cruise missiles that are capable of reaching Israel and carrying nuclear weapons. In 2001, 12 Soviet-era X-55 cruise missiles with a range of 3,500 kilometers were exported to Iran. Israel is also concerned that Tehran is developing its own cruise missile to evade interception by the Arrow, the IDF’s anti-ballistic missile defense system (Jerusalem Post, May 6, 2008).
CRS noted that a major concern is that Iran’s neighbors do not have missile defenses or the ability to deter an Iranian attack. This could allow Iran to “blackmail such states into meeting demands, for example, to raise oil prices, cut oil production or even withhold cooperation with the U.S. on which their very survival depends.” Any Iranian interference with Gulf oil exports would adversely effect oil prices and be difficult for the United States to prevent.
Iran has also made it difficult for any attacker to eliminate the missile threat by spreading launch complexes around the country.
Yet another concern is Iran’s development of a space launch capability. Iran became just the ninth country to demonstrate this capability when it launched the Omid satellite from a Safir-2 rocket. Though the satellite ultimately crashed into the ocean, the launch was an indication that Iran was making progress toward developing long-range ballistic missiles. Additional satellites have been launched and more are planned with capabilities for communication, reconnaissance, remote sensing and imaging. CRS noted that the Iranian space launch program is “a matter of national pride and self-sufficiency in space in the face of widespread international condemnation.” CRS also warned that Iran, like other space faring countries, “will use space for a range of military purposes, such as for reconnaissance and communications.”
The CRS study concluded that “Iran has not shown that it is deterred or dissuaded by U.S. conventional military superiority, or by U.S. and international sanctions, or by the deployment of U.S. BMD [ballistic missile defense] capabilities.”
In April 2013, “G8 Foreign Ministers expressed their deep concern regarding Iran’s continuing nuclear and ballistic missile activities in violation of numerous UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions (G8 Meeting, April 11, 2013). Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast condemned the statement and said: “Iran’s missiles program is in line with the country’s defense doctrine for the legitimate defense and protection of Iran’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and it is not a threat to any country” (FARS News Agency, April 18, 2013). As if to prove the point, Deputy Defense Minister General Majid Boka’i said Iran has redesigned ground-to-ground missiles and developed homemade anti-ship ballistic missiles for targeting enemy ships (Siasatrooz, April 18, 2013).
In May 2013, Iranian officials unveiled a domestically developed transporter-erecter-launcher (TEL) system for their Shahab-3 missiles, making their missile arsenal more mobile and easily disguised. The development of a multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) attachment for the Shahab-3 missiles and newer longer range Qiam missiles was unveiled in February 2014. The MRV attachments allow the missiles to carry multiple warheads and strike many different targets at once, in contrast to a single warhead carried on a single missile hitting a single target. Also unveiled in 2014 was the Iranian Kadr F missile, capable of striking targets up to 1950 kilometers away.
In a report published in October 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), evidence was presented that suggests that the Iranian military had begun to put GPS guidance systems on their Zelal-2 warhead, with a range of only 210 kilometers. The report claims that Iran could easily do the same with longer range missiles, making them much more accurate and significantly increasing the likelihood that Iran could carry out successful devastating missile attacks. Israel missile defense expert Uzi Rubin stated that this threat must not be underestimated, and these GPS guided missiles “can degrade the [Israeli military’s] ground capabilities... can paralyze Israel’s war economy, and inflict massive casualties.” (Aviation Week, February 17, 2015)
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced hat they had test fired a new missile named the “Great Prophet 9” in the Strait of Hormuz on February 26, 2015 as part of a large scale naval and air defense drill. The drill also included an attack on a simulated American aircraft carrier. The Naval Chief of the Revolutionary Guard, Adm Ali Fadavi, stated after the drill that “the new weapon will have a very decisive role in adding our naval power in confronting threats, particular by the Great Satan, the United States” (The Washington Post, February 27, 2015).
During the week following the announcement of a framework agreement aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the delivery of S-300 anti-missile systems to Iran. According to Russian officials the arms embargo was no longer needed due to progress made during the nuclear negotiations. The Russian government canceled the original delivery of these missile systems in 2010 due to international pressure emanating from sanctions imposed on Iran. American officials including Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concerns over the Russian decision (Haaretz, April 13, 2015).
July 2015’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between Iran and the P5+1 did not specify any limits on the Iranian ballistic missile program, except that the Iranians cannot develop any ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead for the duration of the agreement. Iranian officials continued to assert throughout the post-deal media storm that the deal had nothing to do with their ballistic missile systems, because their ballistic missile systems were not designed to transport nuclear warheads. Opponents of the deal point to the fact that many ballistic missiles are multi-function and can carry conventional weapons as well as nuclear warheads.
Announcing that “we will have a new ballistic missile test in the near future that will be a thorn in the eyes of our enemies,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled a new missile, known as the Fateh 313 during a press conference for Iran’s Defense Industry Day on August 22, 2015. The missile has a range of 310 miles and is one of the most accurate missiles in the Iranian arsenal. During the press conference, Rouhani proudly proclaimed, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that. We can negotiate with other countries only when we are powerful. If a country does not have power and independence, it cannot seek real peace” (Reuters, August 22, 2015).
On August 13, 2015, Iranian Brigadier General Ahmad Pourdastan announced that during the coming months Iran was going to be staging six “war-game” drills, featuring domestically produced missiles. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated during the following week that Iranian scientists were “producing all ballistic missile ranges,” for the Iranian aerospace industry. He went on to assert that Iran is, “considering the design, research, and production of [missiles] that are highly destructive, highly accurate, radar evasive, and tactical” (Free Beacon, August 11, 2015).
In violation of a United Nations ban on testing of missiles that could possibly deliver a nuclear warhead, Iran tested a new missile known as the Emad in early October 2015. The Emad is a precision-guided long range missile, and is the first guided weapon in Iran’s arsenal capable of striking Israel. It is estimated that the missile has a range of over 1,000 miles and an accuracy range of within 1,600 feet. Israeli Military professional Uzi Rubin stated cautiously that, “The Emad represents a major leap in terms of accuracy. It has an advanced guidance and control system in its nose cone.” (Reuters, October 11, 2015) The United States, France, Britain, and Germany asked the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to investigate and take action regarding this missile test, which allegedly violated UN sanctions. The UNSC was told in a report that the Emad rocket could possibly deliver a nuclear warhead, and that the test was a “serious violation” of UNSC resolutions against Iran.
The Iranian Fars News agency published pictures and video of an underground Iranian missile testing facility on October 14, 2015, offering a fleeting glimpse into what lies in the secret tunnels under Iran’s mountains. Footage released by the news agency showed IRGC soldiers standing with large missiles in a facility reportedly dug over 1,600 feet into the side of a mountain. (CNN, October 15, 2015) You can find the video below.
Iran test-fired two Qadr H missiles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out,” emblazoned on the sides on March 8, 2016. The missile test coincided with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel to discuss upcoming aid packages. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, made it clear that the missile test was intended to intimidate Israel, stating “The 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) range of our missiles is to confront the Zionist regime. Israel is surrounded by Islamic countries and it will not last long in a war. It will collapse even before being hit by these missiles” (Time Magazine, March 8, 2016).
Iranian officials announced that they had tested a significantly more accurate ballistic missile with a 2,000-kilometer range on May 9, 2016. The missile tested in early May can be remote-guided to an accuracy of within 8 meters of it’s target, according to Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi.
Iran test-fired a North Korean BM-25 Musudan ballistic missile on July 11, 2016, which exploded shortly after launch.
President Donald Trump’s administration issued their first sanctions against Iran on February 3, 2017, in response to a ballistic missile test during the previous week. The test, which was unsuccessful and confirmed by Tehran, featured a singular ballistic missile.
The Iranian military test-fired two Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles during the weekend of March 5, 2017. Only one missile successfully hit it’s mark: a floating barge approximately 150 miles away from the launch site.
On May 3, 2017, the Iranian Navy attempted and failed to launch a cruise missile from a Yono-class ‘midget’ sumbarine in the Strait of Hormuz.
In an interview with Fars News Agency published on May 26, 2017, IRGC airspace division commander Amirali Hajizadeh stated Iran’s third underground [ballistic missile] factory has been built by the Guards in recent years ... We will continue to further develop our missile capabilities forcefully (Reuters, May 26, 2017).
In June 2017, the opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran, claimed that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was operating 42 missile centers and that sicentists from North Korea are helping Iran to develop the know-how to build and launch atomic weapons (Rowan Scarborough, Iran gets North Korean expertise in building up, testing and hiding its ballistic missiles, (Washington Times, June 20, 2017).
Spokesmen for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) insisted that the Iranian ballistic missile program would accelerate and continue to develop despite pressure from the U.S. and European Union. Officials associated with the IRGC stated that the program would continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach to various Iran issues. (Reuters, October 19, 2017).
According to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Iran, launched at least 23 ballistic missiles between the July 2015 signing of the JCPOA nuclear agreement and the end of 2017. Many of these were medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and striking the bases of the United States and its allies in the region (Behnam Ben Taleblu, “Iranian Ballistic Missile Tests Since the Nuclear Deal – 2.0,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, January 25, 2018). Meanwhile, German officals reported in 2017 that Iran was continuing illegal activities to obtain material from German firms for the construction of nuclear missiles (Benjamin Weinthal, “German Officials: Iran Working To Build Nuclear-Armed Missiles,” Jerusalem Post, October 18, 2017).
For updated information see also: Iranian Ballistic Missile Program
Syria provides a critical land route for Iran to transfer weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That was endangered when rebels and ISIS threatened the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran sent troops and instructed Hezbollah to send fighters to defend the regime. Iran also sought to use the chaos of the civil war to establish bases in Syria to facilitate the transfer of materiel to Hezbollah and to create forward positions from which to threaten Israel.
Israel made clear it would not stand by while Iran created facts on the ground in Syria. Throughout the civil war Israel bombed Iranian convoys, bases and troops. When Iran began to use bases in Iraq as well, Israel demonstrated its military reach and commitment to prevent Iran from threatening it from third countries by attacking weapons and ammunition depots controlled by Iraqi militias with ties to Iran (Business Insider, August 26, 2019).
Following the downing over Israeli territory of an Iranian drone launched from Syria on February 10, 2018, Israeli and Syrian forces engaged militarilly for the first time since 1982. Israel subsequently disclosed that the Iranian drone was armed with explosives and on its way to carry out an attack in Israel.
On April 9, 2018, Israel launched an airstrike against the T4 military base near the desert town of Palmyra that coordinates Iranian-backed militias, killing four Iranian military advisers. Russian and Iranian news services reported that two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out the strike, which a conflict monitor said killed 14 people.
Iranian forces in Syria launched a barrage of 20 rockets at Israel on May 8, 2018, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iranian Nuclear deal (JCPOA). Some of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and some landed in Syrian territory. No significant damage or injuries were reported. In retaliation, Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Iranian military installations in Syria, effectively destroying nearly all of the Iranian military infrastructure in Syria according to IDF generals. This was the largest Israeli Air Force operation in decades, and 23 Iranians died in the strikes.
Nevertheless, Iran continued to reinforce positions in Syria and seek ways to target Israel. In August 2019, for example, Iran planned to launch explosive-laden drones from a luxury villa near Damascus. The IDF tracked the arrival of Shi’ite fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force in Damascus. The group was spotted on Syrian side of the Golan Heights on August 22. The IDF thwarted the planned attack, discovered the location of the terrorists’ hideout and destroyed the drones (Ynet, August 25, 2019).
Iran reportedly moved its forces to an area it controls along the Syria-Iraq border because it was not able to protect assets closer to Damascus and the Israeli border. An Israeli intelligence official said, “It transferred there missiles that can hit anywhere in Israeli territory, and can move them through a smuggling route to even closer positions. [Iran] is establishing a system of drones and cruise missiles and military industries it could not sustain in the Damascus area” (Haaretz, January 14, 2021)
This development is believed to be the reason for a series of Israeli airstrikes in January 2021.
Those who argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran ignore the likelihood that a nuclear arms race is likely to ensue in the Middle East, which will exponentially increase the danger to the region and beyond. The cost of stopping Iran’s drive for a bomb, therefore, must be balanced with the benefit of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
If Iran has nuclear weapons it can also pose an indirect threat by sharing the technology or an actual weapon with other Muslim countries or terrorists. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows the peaceful pursuit of nuclear technology, including uranium mining and enrichment, under oversight by the IAEA, but President Ahmadinejad raised worldwide concern about nuclear proliferation when he told the UN General Assembly in September 2005, “Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need.” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated the proliferation threat several months later when he told the president of Sudan, “Iran’s nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country... Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists.”
If Iran succeeds in getting a bomb, it will also create a potential arms race as Arab states see the need to obtain weapons to deter the Iranians. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon,” said President Obama. “Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe.” Obama added: “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”
In fact, since 2006, at least 13 Arab countries have either announced new plans to explore atomic energy or revived pre-existing nuclear programs (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, and Syria) in response to Iran’s nuclear program (Strategic Insights, Volume VIII, Issue 5, December 2009). Many Middle Eastern countries sought to strengthen their nuclear cooperation with other nations, such as the United States, Russia and France. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE signed nuclear cooperation accords with the United States, and Russia and Egypt have laid the groundwork for Russia to join a tender for Egypt’s first civilian nuclear power station. Kuwait, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan announced plans to build nuclear plants as well. Even Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world announced plans to purchase a nuclear reactor.
Most Arab countries say publicly they are only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear technology, but the fear is that some or all may follow the Iranian example and work toward building a bomb. In fact, former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross said he was told by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons” (Haaretz, May 30 2012). The Saudi position was reaffirmed by an official close to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal who said in June 2011, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit” (The Guardian, June 29, 2011).
As one of the world’s principal sponsors of terrorism, a nuclear Iran poses the danger of giving terrorists access to nuclear material. Iran provides weapons to Hezbollah, which has targeted Americans, as well as Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Imagine if either of these groups were given any radioactive materials.
Former President Bill Clinton noted, “the more of these weapons you have hanging around, the more fissile material you’ve got, the more they’re vulnerable to being stolen or sold or just simply transferred to terrorists.” He added, “even if the [Iranian] government didn’t directly sanction it, it wouldn’t be that much trouble to get a Girl Scout cookie’s worth of fissile material, which, if put in the same fertilizer bomb Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City, is enough to take out 20 to 25 percent of Washington, D.C. Just that little bit.” (Piers Morgan Tonight, September 25, 2012).
As Iran is demonstrating, it is not so easy to achieve a nuclear capability, especially with the whole world watching, but the region will become far more dangerous as the number of countries engaged in nuclear activities grows. A nuclear Middle East will also pose a threat to global peace and stability.
During the 2014 nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, Israeli officials stated publicly multiple times that they were worried that a bad deal with Iran would be disastrous for the international community. In order to ensure a deal by the November 24, 2014 deadline, the United States and other negotiating nations granted the loosening of sanctions and the release of frozen funds to Iran, among other things, in exchange for cooperation during the nuclear negotiations. The P5+1 slowly conceded to Iran during the negotiations, eventually bringing up the number of acceptable Iranian centrifuges from 1,300 to 4,000. Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on October 20 that a nuclear capable Iran “Is a threat to the entire world, and, first and foremost, this is a threat to us”. Israelis are worried that the P5+1 deal with Iran may leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state with many active centrifuges that it could use to create nuclear weapons. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stuck by his mantra of “no agreement is better than a bad agreement” during the situation, and Israeli officials met with President Obama and other American higher-ups to express their concerns of a nuclear break-out Iran. (Ynet News, October 22, 2014) The deal was signed in July 2015, despite Israeli opposition.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reports during a press conference on March 21, 2016, that Iran is fully prepared to return to the pre-JCPOA situation or even [to conditions] more robust than that if the US reneges on its promises. Zarif added that Iranian scientists had been continuing work with advanced centrifuges. (PressTV, March 21, 2017)
For updated information see also: Iran: Nuclear History
Iran is the patron - spiritually and financially - for most of the region’s Islamic militants. It is the Iranian model of revolution, its institution of Islamic law and its anti-Western philosophy that characterize the rhetoric of many extremist groups. And it is Iranian money that often pays for the weapons, training and literature that are the backbone of Islamic extremist violence.
The United States designated Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984. According to the State Department’s 2011 report on terrorism, “Iran was known to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and terrorist insurgent groups to implement its foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and support terrorist and militant groups.”
In October 2005, a senior Palestinian intelligence official revealed that Iran promised a reward of $10,000 to Islamic Jihad if it launched rockets from the West Bank toward Tel Aviv. Iran also transferred money from Iran to Syria, from where Islamic Jihad’s head of overseas operations forwards it to the West Bank (Sunday Times, October 30, 2005).
Tehran has been linked to numerous anti-West and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, ranging from taking hostages and hijacking airliners to carrying out assassinations and bombings. Some of these incidents include the taking of more than 30 Western hostages in Lebanon from 1984 through 1992, the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the French-U. S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and on the Argentine Jewish communal building in 1994.
In 2011, the United States discovered that Iran conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. “The thwarted plot,” the State Department reported, “underscored anew Iran’s interest in using international terrorism - including in the United States - to further its foreign policy goals.”
Moreover, Iranian agents have acted to perpetrate terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries around the world since 2010. Iran has been implicated in the July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed 5 Israelis, the February 2012 attacks on Israeli representatives in Georgia and India, as well as the failed strikes in Thailand and Azerbaijan against Jewish targets. Israel’s Mossad security service also noted that Iran was behind foiled plots to attack Jewish and Israeli targets in Kenya and Cyprus as well.
Deadly terror weapons have also been smuggled into the hands of Iranian-sponsored groups such as Hezbollah and used against Israeli civilians in commando-style raids. New rockets were delivered to Hezbollah by Iran and may be used to bombard northern Israel. Hezbollah fighters have also been trained in Iranian camps. Rearming Hezbollah after the 2006 Lebanon War is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Iran spent approximately $1 billion to rebuild southern Lebanon, and, according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, exponentially increased Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal to as many as 60,000 rockets (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008).
Israeli intelligence believes that the Quds Force and Hezbollah have divided responsibilities, with the former focused on official Israeli officials and institutions, such as ambassadors and embassies, while the latter attacks soft targets, such as Israeli tourists (IPT News, April 30, 2013).
In March 2007, the chief of the Shin Bet reported that Hamas had sent dozens of men from Gaza to Iran for military training (New York Times, March 6, 2007). During the conflict with Israel that led to Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Hamas fired Iranian-supplied Fajr-5 rockets at Tel Aviv and after a ceasefire was declared Gazans publicly thanked Iran for its support.
Khaled Meshal, head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, said Hamas will maintain its close and strong relations with Iran and Hezbollah despite tensions over Iranian claims to be calling the shots in Gaza. High-ranking Iranian officials claim Hamas continues to answer to Tehran, and that even if Hamas’s political leaders refused to obey orders from Tehran, Hamas’s military echelon would continue to follow Iranian instructions. The statements followed the release of satellite images showing that Iran was rushing to rearm Hamas following Operation Pillar of Defense (Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2012).
A report published by the Telegraph newspaper on April 4, 2015, detailed that Iran had been funneling millions of dollars to Hamas to help them rebuild their network of terror tunnels that were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge. The Iranian funding also assisted Hamas in replenishing their missile stockpiles (The Telegraph, April 5, 2015).
The chief of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi disclosed in June 2017 that Iran was providing Hezbollah with $75 million per year, Hamas $50 million and approximately $70 million to Islamic Jihad (Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Massive Iranian Funding For Anti-Israel Terror Groups Revealed,” Jerusalem Post, June 23, 2017). In July 2017, reports disclosed that Hezbollah is building a military industry in Lebanon with the help of Iran. One factory being constructed in northern Lebanon is designed to manufacture Fateh 110 medium-range missiles, which can reach most of Israel and carries a 500 kilogram warhead. A second factory is being built on Lebanon’s southern coast (Yaakov Lappin, “Iran’s Lebanese Missile Factories in ‘New and Very Dangerous Phase,’” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, July 18, 2017).
In July 2019, Israeli security and police forces uncovered a network to recruit people from Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip for Iranian intelligence. The network was based in Syria under Iranian guidance and was led by a Syrian operative nicknamed “Abu Jihad.” Those who had been recruited were asked to collect information on military bases, sensitive security installations, VIPs, police stations, hospitals and other potential targets (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 24, 2019).
Perhaps the most serious terrorist threat from Iran would arise if it succeeds in developing nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran may decide to transfer nuclear materials to either homegrown or foreign terrorists to threaten countries in the Middle East and beyond.
See also: Iran's Sponsorship of Terror
“It’s an open secret and not classified information that there have been relationships, there are connections,” between Iran and al-Qaida, according to CIA director Mike Pompeo. “There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al-Qaeda,” he said, adding, “They’ve cut deals so as not to come after each other, that is, they view the West as a greater threat than the fight between the two along their ideological lines” (Jenna Lifhits, “Pompeo: Al-Qaeda-Iran Connection an ‘Open Secret,’” Al-Qaeda-iran-connection-an-open-secret/article/2010120” target=“_blank”>Weekly Standard, October 19, 2017).
According to documents found during the raid on Osama bin-Laden’s compound, the Iranian regime allowed al-Qaida to operate in Iran and actively assisted its members. Iran has also provided transit and temporary safe haven to members of al-Qaida, including senior leaders Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made many threats against Israel and now does so through social media. On July 23, 2014, for example, he tweeted: This barbaric, wolf-like & infanticidal regime of #Israel, which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated. On November 8, 2014, he released via Twitter the 9-point table below outlining how and why Israel should be eliminated.
Iranian officials have subsequently made repeated threats toward Israel.
According to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli officials are “constantly detecting and foiling Iranian attempts” to penetrate the country’s computer networks. For example, in May 2020, at the height the coronavirus crisis, Iran launched a cyberattack on Israeli water and sewage facilities routed through computer servers in the United States and Europe. Israeli Water Authority officials detected and prevented the intrusion and immediately took measures to prevent further hacks (Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashim, “Foreign intelligence officials say attempted cyberattack on Israeli water utilities linked to Iran,” Washington Post, May 8, 2020). “The Iranian attack could have paralyzed Israel’s sewage systems, disrupting the water supply for farming and aggravating sanitation problems in some areas of the country at the height of the pandemic,” according to Ron Ben-Yishai (Ron Ben-Yishai, “Israel and U.S. are sending a clear warning to Iran,” Ynet, May 19, 2020).
Israel reportedly responded on May 9, 2020, by hacking Iranian computers that regulate the flow of vessels, trucks, and goods, which brought shipping traffic at Iran’s Shahid Rajaee port terminal to an abrupt and inexplicable halt (Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima, “Officials: Israel linked to a disruptive cyberattack on Iranian port facility,” Washington Post, May 18, 2020). The attack was said to be consistent with the strategic policy adopted by Israel since the Second Lebanon War whereby it responds disproportionately to attacks but stays below the threshold of a declaration of war.
Ben-Yishai suggested the story was leaked to the Washington Post to send a message to Iran that it will pay a price if its cyberattacks continued.