Iran’s first direct attack on Israel overnight Saturday demonstrated the country’s military might and the advances of its domestic weapons program, analysts said, while also revealing the limitations of its arsenal.

With more than 300 drones and missiles launched in a layered onslaught, it was Iran’s largest-ever conventional show of force. That it inflicted only minimal damage was due in part to the choreographed nature of the attack — giving Israel and the United States ample time to prepare air defense systems — but may also be attributed to shortcomings in its medium- and long-range capabilities.

“The operation showed that our armed forces are ready,” Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi told crowds gathered Wednesday in Tehran to mark Army Day. Parades in the Iranian capital featured many of the same munitions used in the attack on Israel.


What Iran used against Israel

These drones can deliver small payloads of explosives in self-detonating attacks.

Max. take off weight: 440 lb.

Range: About 1,100 – 1,500 miles

Its nose contains a warhead and can be equipped with a camera.

Max. take off weight: 300 lb.

The Shahed-131 is an earlier version of Shahed-136 with a similar principle of operation. The layout and aerodynamics are also identical.

The Kheibar Shekan MRBM is a solid-propellant ballistic missile designed by the IRGC.

Warhead weight: 1,100 lb.

The Emad MRBM is an Iranian-designed, liquid-fuel ballistic missile based on Shahab-3.

Warhead weight: 1,650 lb.

The Ghadr-1 MRBM seems to be an improved variant of the Shahab-3A. It is also referred to as the Ghadr-101 and the Ghadr-110.

Warhead weight: 1,760 lb.

The Sejjil-1 Iranian MRBM is a two-stage, solid-propellant, surface-to-surface missile.

Warhead weight: 1,540 lb.

The Shahab-3 is a MRBM developed by Iran and based on the North Korean Nodong-1.

Warhead: Single or multiple

with 5 warheads of 617 lb.

Sources: OE Data Integration Network (ODIN),

CSIS Missile Defense Project

What Iran used against Israel

These drones can deliver small payloads of explosives in self-detonating attacks.

Max. take off weight: 440 lb.

Range: About 1,100 – 1,500 miles

Its nose contains a warhead and can be equipped with a camera.

Max. take off weight: 300 lb.

The Shahed-131 is an earlier version of Shahed-136 with a similar principle of operation. The layout and aerodynamics are also identical.

The Kheibar Shekan MRBM is a solid-propellant ballistic missile designed by the IRGC.

Warhead weight: 1,100 lb.

The Emad MRBM is an Iranian-designed, liquid-fuel ballistic missile based on Shahab-3.

Warhead weight: 1,650 lb.

The Ghadr-1 MRBM seems to be an improved variant of the Shahab-3A. It is also referred to as the Ghadr-101 and the Ghadr-110.

Warhead weight: 1,760 lb.

The Sejjil-1 Iranian MRBM is a two-stage, solid-propellant, surface-to-surface missile.

Warhead weight: 1,540 lb.

The Shahab-3 is a MRBM developed by Iran and based on the North Korean Nodong-1.

Warhead: Single or multiple

with 5 warheads of 617 lb.

Sources: OE Data Integration Network (ODIN),

CSIS Missile Defense Project

What Iran used against Israel

These drones can deliver small payloads of explosives in self-detonating attacks.

Max. take off weight: 440 lb.

Range: About 1,100 – 1,500 miles

Its nose contains a warhead and can be equipped with a camera.

Max. take off weight: 300 lb.

The Shahed-131 is an earlier version of Shahed-136 with a similar principle of operation. The layout and aerodynamics are also identical.

The Emad MRBM is an Iranian-designed, liquid-fuel ballistic missile based on Shahab-3.

The Ghadr-1 MRBM seems to be an improved variant of the Shahab-3A. It is also referred to as the Ghadr-101 and the Ghadr-110.

The Kheibar Shekan MRBM is a solid-propellant ballistic missile designed by the IRGC.

The Sejjil-1 Iranian MRBM is a two-stage, solid-propellant, surface-to-surface missile.

The Shahab-3 is a MRBM developed by Iran and based on the North Korean Nodong-1.

Warhead: Single or multiple

with 5 warheads of 617 lb.

Warhead weight: 1,540 lb.

Sources: OE Data Integration Network (ODIN), CSIS Missile Defense Project

What Iran used against Israel

These drones can deliver small payloads of explosives in self-detonating attacks.

Max. take off weight: 440 lb.

Range: About 1,100 – 1,500 miles

Its nose contains a warhead and can be equipped with a camera.

Max. take off weight: 300 lb.

The Shahed-131 is an earlier version of Shahed-136 with a similar principle of operation. The layout and aerodynamics are also identical.

The Emad MRBM is an Iranian-designed, liquid-fuel ballistic missile based on Shahab-3.

The Ghadr-1 MRBM seems to be an improved variant of the Shahab-3A. It is also referred to as the Ghadr-101 and the Ghadr-110.

The Kheibar Shekan MRBM is a solid-propellant ballistic missile designed by the IRGC.

Warhead weight: 1,760 lb.

Warhead weight: 1,650 lb.

Warhead weight: 1,100 lb.

The Sejjil-1 Iranian MRBM is a two-stage, solid-propellant, surface-to-surface missile.

The Shahab-3 is a MRBM developed by Iran and based on the North Korean Nodong-1.

Warhead: Single or multiple

with 5 warheads of 617 lb.

Warhead weight: 1,540 lb.

Sources: OE Data Integration Network (ODIN), CSIS Missile Defense Project

Raisi hailed the attack as a resounding “success,” but was also quick to qualify the strikes as “limited” and “not comprehensive.”

“If it was supposed to be a large-scale action, nothing would have been left of the Zionist regime,” he said. And if Israel retaliates, Raisi pledged, “they will be dealt with fiercely and severely.”

Yet after analyzing the munitions used in Saturday’s assault and the success of regional defense systems, researchers say it’s unclear how Iran could inflict greater damage on Israel through conventional military means.

“Iran basically threw everything it had that could reach Israel’s territory,” said John Krzyzaniak, a researcher who studies Iran’s missile programs at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. Like other analysts interviewed for this story, he has spent the past several days studying launch videos, imagery of debris and interception information to identify the Iranian munitions.

His conclusion is that Tehran “used some of every system they have.” And experts said it made sense that the Sejjil-1 and Shahab-3 missiles were excluded from the attack.

Shahab-3 “wasn’t used because it’s so old,” said Fabian Hinz, an Iran analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Berlin. “The Sejjil is a bit of a mysterious missile,” he said, adding that Iran has “used it very, very little during maneuvers.”

Other analysts noted the Sejjil was expensive to produce and may no longer be in production.

The quantity of munitions used also provides new insights into Iran’s capabilities. The deployment of over 100 ballistic missiles in a single wave suggests that previous estimates that Iran has about 3,000 ballistic missiles stockpiled are probably accurate, and could even be on the low end.

“If this is just round one of an unknown number of rounds to come, you wouldn’t fire a significant fraction of what you have just in the first round,” Krzyzaniak said.

The firing of over 100 ballistic missiles in the space of a few minutes suggests Iran has at least 100 launchers, he added — a new data point for researchers.

“This shows that Iran has really faced no limitation in domestically producing missiles and launchers,” he said.

Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, the largest of any country in the Middle East, is almost entirely homegrown. In recent years Iran has demonstrated the ability to upgrade some systems, improving their range and precision.

The spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, said the munitions used in the strikes against Israel only represented “a fraction of” the country’s military’s might, according to a statement published on state-run media.


The evolution of Iran’s

missile program

In the mid-1980s, Tehran acquired Scud missiles from Libya, Syria and North Korea and also began adapting the technology for their own missile variants. During the eight-year war with Iraq, Tehran countered primarily with Scud B missiles, which have a range of 185 miles.

Iran developed its own version of the Scud B, the Shahab-1, and from 1994 to 2001 fired it at bases in Iraq used by the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq.

A new generation of missiles

After 16 years without firing new missiles, Iran showed its technological advances in 2017 striking on an ISIS command center with 6 Zolfaghars with a range of 430 miles. In early 2024, it launched strikes against Islamic State targets in northwest Syria using Kheibar Shekan missiles that travelled 745 miles from Iran to Syria.

Kheibar Shekan, 900 miles

Against Kurdish dissidents

Against Oil fields and facilities

18 drones + 7 cruise missiles

15 to 22 ballistic missiles

Against “Israeli strategic centers”

At least 10 ballistic missiles

Against Kurdish dissidents

73 launches + at least 20 drones

Ballistic missiles

and suicide drones

Koya, Iraq

Sulaimaniyah,

Iraq

Israeli “spy headquarters”

120 ballistic missiles,

170 drones,

30 cruise missiles

Sources: United States Institute of Peace, CSIS, IDF

The evolution of Iran’s

missile program

In the mid-1980s, Tehran acquired Scud missiles from Libya, Syria and North Korea and also began adapting the technology for their own missile variants. During the eight-year war with Iraq, Tehran countered primarily with Scud B missiles, which have a range of 185 miles.

Iran developed its own version of the Scud B, the Shahab-1, and from 1994 to 2001 fired it at bases in Iraq used by the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq.

A new generation of missiles

After 16 years without firing new missiles, Iran showed its technological advances in 2017 striking on an ISIS command center with 6 Zolfaghars with a range of 430 miles. In early 2024, it launched strikes against Islamic State targets in northwest Syria using Kheibar Shekan missiles that travelled 745 miles from Iran to Syria.

Kheibar Shekan, 900 miles

Against Kurdish dissidents

Against Oil fields and facilities

18 drones + 7 cruise missiles

15 to 22 ballistic missiles

Against “Israeli strategic centers”

At least 10 ballistic missiles

Against Kurdish dissidents

73 launches + at least 20 drones

Ballistic missiles

and suicide drones

Koya, Iraq

Sulaimaniyah,

Iraq

Israeli “spy headquarters”

120 ballistic missiles,

170 drones,

30 cruise missiles

Sources: United States Institute of Peace, CSIS, IDF

The evolution of Iran’s missile program

Iran developed its own version of the Scud B, the Shahab-1, and from 1994 to 2001 fired it at bases in Iraq used by the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq.

In the mid-1980s, Tehran acquired Scud missiles from Libya, Syria and North Korea and also began adapting the technology for their own missile variants. During the eight-year war with Iraq, Tehran countered primarily with Scud B missiles, which have a range of 185 miles.

A new generation of missiles

After 16 years without firing new missiles, Iran showed its technological advances in 2017 striking on an ISIS command center with 6 Zolfaghars with a range of 430 miles. In early 2024, it launched strikes against Islamic State targets in northwest Syria using Kheibar Shekan missiles that travelled 745 miles from Iran to Syria.

Kheibar Shekan, 900 miles

Against Kurdish dissidents

Against Oil fields and facilities

18 drones + 7 cruise missiles

Qiams,

Zolfaghars and

potentially

Fateh-313

15 to 22 ballistic missiles

Against “Israeli strategic centers”

At least 10 ballistic missiles

Against Kurdish dissidents

73 launches + at least 20 drones

Ballistic missiles and suicide drones

Koya, Iraq

Sulaimaniyah, Iraq

Israeli “spy headquarters”

Missiles and drones against Jaish ul Adl

120 ballistic missiles,

170 drones, 30 cruise missiles

Sources: United States Institute of Peace, CSIS, IDF

Before the attack on Israel, Iran’s most significant use of ballistic missiles was in 2020, after a U.S. drone attack killed the powerful Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, one in the country’s west and one in the north. While there were no fatalities, dozens of U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injuries.

Iran also used ballistic missiles in strikes this year on Pakistan, Syria and Iraq.


Iranian ballistic

missile ranges

Locations of Iranian

missile strikes

since 2017

Iranian ballistic

missile ranges

Locations of Iranian

missile strikes

since 2017

Iranian ballistic

missile ranges

Locations of Iranian

missile strikes

since 2017

Iranian ballistic

missile ranges

Locations of Iranian

missile strikes

since 2017

But the attack on Israel suggests that many of Iran’s munitions are of low quality. Israel’s military said 99 percent of the missiles and drones launched by Iran were intercepted or failed to launch.

“We saw that accuracy and precision are a work in progress,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has written extensively about Iran’s missile program. “These weapons alone won’t win a war for Iran.”

Iranian drones made up the first wave of the attack. Cheap, effective and easy to produce, Iranian drones have been used in attacks across the Middle East for years. Iran has also supplied drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, where they have been deadly.

During the attack on Israel, the slow-moving drones were probably deployed to occupy air defenses and allow more advanced munitions to get through. All the drones were shot down before entering Israeli airspace, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Ali Hamie, a Lebanese military analyst, said Iran had probably gleaned important lessons about Israel’s aerial defenses. Commentators on Iranian state television have made similar points.

“It could be a testing attack,” Hamie said, “and the Iranians got what they want. Making it past the air defenses is not only a symbolic victory, but real victory.”

One of the few missiles to make it through the interceptors hit an Israeli air base in the Negev desert. Images of the strike were run on loop on many state-run Iranian broadcasters in the days after the attack. Israel characterized the damage as minor.


General location of missile strikes

that reached the ground.

An emad missile

was found here.

The barrage of

missiles from Iran

included targeting

the Nevatim

air base.

General location of

missile strikes that

reached the ground.

An emad missile

was found here.

The barrage of

missiles from Iran

included targeting

the Nevatim

air base.

General location of missile

strikes that reached the

ground.

An emad missile

was found here.

The barrage of

missiles from Iran

included targeting

the Nevatim

air base.

In addition to analyzing Israel’s air defenses, Tehran will probably also be studying the problems with its missile systems that reportedly led to failures at launch and in flight, according to Afshon Ostovar, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.

“Another attack could be more effective,” he said. But ultimately the kind of approach demonstrated in Saturday’s attack “is not really sustainable over a long-term conflict.”

Even if Iran changed the tempo of attacks and adjusted the munitions used, “they would still have to launch quite a lot of stuff for just a few [munitions] to get through,” he said.

Some Iranian officials have suggested they have held back their most dangerous weapons.

“We are prepared to use weapons we have never used before. We have plans for every scenario,” said Abolfazl Amoui, a parliamentary national security spokesman, in an interview with Lebanese broadcaster Mayadeen.

But analysts say it’s unlikely that any one type of munition could be a game changer. Rather, it’s more likely Iran would use the same kinds of munitions in a future attack, but in a different way: giving less warning, or launching the barrage in concert with allied militant groups in the region. The country’s proxy forces, from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, played little role in Saturday’s assault.

As Israel mulls its response, Tehran has warned that a counterattack would come in “a matter of seconds.”

“Iran will not wait for another 12 days to respond,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani said Monday.

While the United States and Israel have celebrated the thwarting of Saturday’s attack, analysts are urging humility.

“The number of munitions it took to repel the attack was enormous, costly and could be difficult to replicate,” said Tom Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Israel may have gotten lucky and Iran may have gotten very unlucky.”

William Neff and Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.



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