What defense/attack systems do Israel and Iran have? The analysis


By John

Iran's attack on Israel and last night's retort attributed to the Jewish state has renewed attention on their respective air defense capabilities. Here is what air forces and anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems both countries have at their disposal, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London (IISS).



Iran's air force numbers 37,000 personnel, but decades of international sanctions have largely cut the country off from the most up-to-date military technology. It has only a few dozen functioning attack aircraft, including Russian jets and older American models purchased before the 1979 Iranian revolution. Tehran has a squadron of nine F-4 and F-5 fighter planes, a squadron of Sukhoi-24 aircraft Russian-made aircraft and some MiG-29, F7 and F14 aircraft.
The Iranians also have kamikaze drones which, according to analysts, do not exceed a few thousand. It also has more than 3,500 surface-to-surface missiles, some of which are capable of carrying half-ton warheads. However, the number of carriers capable of reaching Israel may be fewer. Two days ago Iranian Air Force Commander Hamid Vahedi said the Sukhoi-24s were in their “best state of readiness” to counter any potential Israeli attack, but Iran's reliance on these supersonic tactical bombers developed over the years '60, shows the relative weakness of its air force.


For defense, Iran relies on a mix of domestically and Russian-produced surface-to-air missiles and air defense systems.
Tehran received from Russia in 2016 the S-300 anti-aircraft system, a long-range surface-to-air missile system capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously, including aircraft and ballistic missiles. Iran also possesses the domestically produced Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile platform, as well as the Sayyad and Raad defense systems.
“If there was a major conflict between the two countries, Iran would probably focus on occasional successes,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the IISS. “They don't have the comprehensive air defenses that Israel has.”



Israel has an advanced air force, supplied by the United States, with hundreds of F-15, F-16 and F-35 multi-role fighters that played an instrumental role in shooting down around 350 Iranian drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles in last weekend's attack. The Air Force does not have long-range bombers, although a small fleet of Boeing 707s converted to fly tankers could allow its fighters to reach Iran for targeted sorties. A pioneer in drone technology, Israel has Heron unmanned aircraft capable of flying for more than 30 hours, enough for long-distance operations. The Delilah cruise missiles have an estimated range of 250 kilometers, too short to clear the Persian Gulf, although the Air Force could fill the gap by bringing the launcher closer to the Iranian border.

It is widely believed, but not confirmed, that Israel has developed long-range surface-to-surface missiles. In 2018, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that the Israeli army would receive a new “missile force” although it is unclear how far along the development is.


A multi-layered air defense system developed with U.S. help after the 1991 Gulf War provides Israel with several additional options for shooting down Iranian drones and long-range missiles. The system capable of reaching the highest altitude is Arrow-3, which intercepts ballistic missiles in space. An earlier model, Arrow-2, operates at lower altitudes. The medium-range David's Sling counters ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, while the short-range Iron Dome shield tackles the kind of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza and Hezbollah from Lebanon – but can also, in theory , be used against any more powerful missile missed by Arrow or David's Slingshot.
The Israeli systems are designed to be integrated into US interceptors in the region for coalition force defenses.
“Israeli air defenses worked well throughout the attack,” said Sidharth Kausha, a researcher at the Royal United Strategic Institute in London. However, he noted that some of the incoming targets, particularly drones, were shot down by aircraft allies belonging to the United Kingdom, the United States and Jordan before they reached Israel, “which limited its degree of exposure to certain types of threats.” However, he notes, “sufficient notice was given to allow a response to be prepared of the coalition, it means that the system was better prepared than it might have been if exposed to a similar attack with less warning,” he added.