Iran’s attack on Israel was seen by experts as ambitious – but the country has the capability and range to strike further targets across the entire Middle East.

According to the Israel Defence Forces, Iran used 185 drones, 36 cruise missiles and 110 ballistic missiles in its attack.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched the offensive after blaming Israel for an attack on the consular section of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, on 1 April.

Here, we take a look at Iran’s military capabilities.

What is the IRGC?

The IRGC is the dominant branch of the Iranian Armed Forces.

It was set up shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when a movement led by Muslim students led to the overthrowing of the US-backed Pahlavi dynasty.

The IRGC was introduced to provide extra protection for the new regime and to act as a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

It answers to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The IRGC has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units – some analysts believe the figure is far higher.

It also commands the Basij religious militia, a volunteer paramilitary force loyal to the establishment and which is often used to crack down on anti-government protests.

Analysts say Basij volunteers may number in the millions.

The Quds Force is the IRGC’s foreign espionage and paramilitary arm that heavily influences its allied militia across the Middle East.

Its top commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani, was killed by the US in a drone attack in Iraq in 2020.

The IRGC, which is classified as a terrorist group by the US, wants to shape the Middle East in favour of Tehran.

In 1982, it founded Lebanon’s Hezbollah to export Iran’s Islamic Revolution and fight Israeli forces which invaded Lebanon that same year.

What are the IRGC’s military capabilities?

The IRGC has ground, air and naval capabilities – and oversees Iran’s ballistic missile programme, regarded by experts as the largest in the Middle East.

It has used the missiles to hit militants in Syria and northern Iraq.

The US, European nations and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for a 2019 missile and drone attack which crippled the world’s biggest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.

Iran denied any involvement in the assault.

The IRGC has its own intelligence wing and has extensive conventional combat hardware which it showcased with its involvement in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Experts believe its stock of cruise and ballistic missiles have the ability and range to hit any target within the Middle East region.

According to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region.

What do we know about the Iranian missile range?

The semi-official Iranian news outlet ISNA this week published details of missiles it said could reach Israel.

These included the Sejil, which is capable of flying at more than 10,500mph and has a range of 1,550 miles.

Another one, the Kheibar, has a range of 1,240 miles – while the Haj Qasem can reach targets 870 miles away.

Iran says its ballistic missiles are an important deterrent and retaliatory force against the US, Israel and other potential regional targets. It denies seeking nuclear weapons.

Last August, Iran said it had built an advanced homemade drone named Mohajer-10 with an operational range of 1,240 miles.

It can fly for up to 24 hours with a payload of up to 300kg (660lbs), the Iranians claimed.

In the summer of 2023, Iran presented what officials described as its first domestically-made hypersonic ballistic missile, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hypersonic missiles can fly at least five times faster than the speed of sound and can take a complex trajectory, making them difficult to intercept.

The Arms Control Association, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation, says Iran’s missile programme is largely based on North Korean and Russian designs and has also received Chinese assistance.

It says Iran’s short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles include Shahab-1, with an estimated range of 190 miles.

Iran has cruise missiles such as Kh-55, an air-launched nuclear-capable weapon with a range of up to 1,860 miles.

An advanced anti-ship missile, the Khalid Farzh, with an approximate range of 186 miles, is capable of carrying a 1.1-tonne warhead.

How does Iran use other military groups?

Iran has so far played no direct role in the Gaza conflict since it started six months ago.

But it has been backing groups which have been attacking Israel, US interests, and Red Sea shipping.

Built up over decades of Iranian support, the groups describe themselves as the “Axis of Resistance” to Israel and US influence in the Middle East.

The axis includes the Palestinian group, Hamas – but also the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and the Houthi movement in Yemen alongside various armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah was set up by the IRGC in 1982 with the aim of fighting Israeli forces which had invaded Lebanon that year.

The heavily armed group, also an influential political player, is widely regarded as more powerful than the Lebanese state.

The Houthi movement established control over large parts of Yemen during a civil war which began in 2014 when it overthrew the government, which was backed by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival for regional influence.

The Houthis have long had friendly ties to Iran.

The movement announced at the end of last October it had entered the Gaza conflict by firing drones and missiles towards Israel – and later attacked shipping in the southern Red Sea.

The US believes the IRGC has been helping to plan and carry out the Houthi missile and drone attacks, but Iran denies any involvement.

The Houthis deny being an Iranian proxy.

What are Iran’s nuclear capabilities?

The country’s supreme leader made clear in June 2023 how Western nations cannot prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

At the time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a deal with the West was possible, but only if its nuclear infrastructure remained intact.

Iran has always denied having any intention to build a nuclear weapon.

But in recent years, the Islamic Republic has expanded its stockpile of uranium – in 2023, its total enriched uranium was 21 times more than the nuclear limits previously imposed on it.

Sanam Vakil, the Middle East and North Africa programme director at Chatham House, told Sky News the nuclear capabilities of Iran “wouldn’t necessarily” be the first place Israel would target in any retaliatory strike.

She added: “If Israel targeted Iran directly, it might be looking for similar targets – military compounds, somewhere it wouldn’t incur civilian or broader infrastructural damage in the same way Iran did so.

“Of course, it would be very risky because it could open the pandora’s box to a broader conflict that we’ve all been fearing.”

Source » sky