How strong is Iran's defence system?
Iran has vowed to retaliate after its most powerful figure among forces aligned with Iran throughout the Middle East was killed by a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport. But, how strong is Iran’s defence system?
The targeted killing of Soleimani dramatically increased tensions in the region and caused U.S. outposts and personnel to brace for retaliatory attacks.
“Severe revenge awaits” those behind the attack on General Qasem Soleimani, said Iran’s Supreme Leader.
How strong is Iran’s army?
According to the UK-based think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, there is an estimated 523,000 active Iranian personnel in a variety of military roles.
In the regular army, this includes 350,000 and in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at least 150,000.
There is an additional 20,000 service personnel in the naval forces of the IRGC. This party operates a number of armed patrol boats in the Hormuz Strait, the location of a number of confrontations in 2019 involving foreign-flagged tankers.
The IRGC also manages the unit of Basij, a volunteer force that helped to suppress internal dissent. This unit will deploy hundreds of thousands of workers.
The IRGC was set up 40 years ago to protect Iran’s Islamic regime and has become a major force in its own right, military, political, and cultural.
How can Iran strike abroad?
The Quds Force, commanded by General Soleimani, executes the IRGC’s secret operations abroad and reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is thought to be about 5,000 high.
The unit was deployed to Syria, where military elements loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and armed Shia militias fighting against them were told. Throughout Iraq, a Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped in the Islamic State group’s defeat has been armed.
The US, however, claims the Quds force has a broader role to play by providing funding, training, weapons, and resources to organizations Washington has identified as Middle East terrorist groups. These include the Hezbollah party of Lebanon and the Islamic Jihad of Palestine.
Economic problems and sanctions have hindered Iran’s relatively small arms imports compared to those of other countries in the region.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the amount of Iran’s defense imports during the same period between 2009 and 2018 was only 3.5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s imports over the same era.
Most imports from Iran come from Russia, and the rest come from China.
What are Iran’s missile capabilities?
Because of its relative lack of air-power compared to rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s missile capabilities are a key part of its military prowess.
A report from the U.S. Defense Department describes the missile forces of the country as the largest in the Middle East, consisting mainly of short and medium-range missiles. It also says that Iran is researching space technology to allow it to produce intercontinental missiles that can go much further.
But Iran’s long-range missile program has stalled as part of its 2015 nuclear deal with foreign countries, according to the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think tank. But it added that, given the uncertainty surrounding the deal, it may have resumed.
In any case, many targets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and possibly targets in Israel, would be within the range of Iran’s current short and medium-range missiles.
In May last year, the US deployed a Patriot Missile Defense System to the Middle East as tensions with Iran escalated. This is intended to counter ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
What are Iran’s non-conventional weapon capabilities?
Iran has also been able to develop drone capabilities, depsite years of sanctions.
Iranian drones have been used in the fight against IS in Iraq since 2016. According to Rusi, Iran has also entered Israeli airspace with armed drones operating from bases in Syria.
Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in June 2019, claiming it had violated Iranian airspace across the Hormuz Strait.
Drone and missile attacks have destroyed two main oil installations in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
Such attacks were attributed to Iran by both the US and Saudi Arabia, while Tehran denied any involvement and pointed to a presumption of responsibility by rebels in Yemen.
What are Iran’s cyber-capabilities?
Iran ramped up its cyber-space capability after a massive cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010.
It is suspected that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has its own cyber-command focused on commercial and military espionage.
In 2019, a US military report said Iran has targeted aerospace firms, defense contractors, energy and natural resource firms, and telecommunications firms around the world for cyber-espionage operations.