Iran’s Missile Program and the Perspectives of War

Operation Decisive Storm, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, has initiated a major shift in the balance of power across the Middle East. We are entering a very significant period with a long list of complex issues and questions for analysts following regional affairs. Can Iran embark on direct military action on behalf of its allies? Why hasn’t Iran used its military muscle, especially its wide range of missiles, to showcase a very quick response to the shift in the Middle East balance of power?

The Simple Truth

Iran lacks any such ability to enter a direct military conflict with any party. Iran’s “military might” is typified by its support for militias in various countries across the region: Shiite Houthis in Yemen, the Lebanese Hizb’allah, a conglomerate of sectarian Shiite militias, and death squads in Iraq, along with dispatching thousands of its Revolutionary Guards and hired mercenaries from Pakistan and Afghanistan to shore up Bashar Assad’s fragmented rule in Syria. It has been policy from day one for Iran to have proxies do the dirty work and spread its influence abroad.

Saudi Initiative Silences Iran

Understanding the serious nature of Iran meddling in its own backyard, in the spring of 2015 Riyadh rallied an Arab drive, largely consisting of Gulf Cooperation Council members, in Decisive Storm, a major air campaign targeting Shiite Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah, acting as proxies of Iran in Yemen. The coalition, especially the United Arab Emirates, also provided ground forces to support the Yemen National Army and armed tribes to maintain their position in Aden, and from there push their way to the north. This initiative has reached a point where the Houthi rebels have been cornered and have chosen to reverse policy by entering UN-sponsored talks with the legitimate Yemeni government of President Abed Raboo Mansour Hadi. This came as a complete shock to Iran, as it has yet to see any such Arab enterprise against its interests in the region after the brutal Iran-Iraq War back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, this is the language the mullahs understand the best. Tehran has become an expert at taking advantage of diplomatic efforts by the West. However, a decisive military campaign by the Arab community has forced Iran to rethink its policies and adopt tough decisions.


Senior Iranian officials constantly rule out any possibility of a foreign military attack, realizing the devastating psychological and social impact. The most important argument Iran relies on is that the United States, after failing to achieve tangible results in Afghanistan and Iraq, lacks the stomach to launch yet another war. All senior officials in Iran are on one page over the notion that any foreign attack is in itself a major threat for Iran. However, many might not comprehend this reality and Iran takes full advantage to cloak the truth.

Red Line

The harsh reality is that any foreign attack will result in major social consequences for the regime inside Iran. The mullahs are sitting on a powder keg and such an attack would ignite this time bomb, enabling the Iranian people to launch nationwide uprisings engulfing the entire regime. A military confrontation for the regime in Iran is a red line. This was also the most important no-go area Iran’s delegation were instructed to safeguard during 2½ years of nuclear negotiations. The assertion that a foreign military attack will rally Iranians behind the ruling regime is a major faux pas. The mullahs have no significant social base to count on in such circumstances.

The Last Bunker

Iran’s missiles are the only contingent force that can surface in any encounter against a foreign adversary. This is exactly why Tehran goes the limits to prevent the status quo from morphing into a military conflict with the West. When the mullahs in Tehran realized they might face a military attack in response to their nuclear program, they quickly accepted the setbacks to prevent any such escalation of tensions. The mullahs are fully aware of the breadth of popular anger, and how they will jump to the occasion in any foreign military attack, placing their crosshairs on the regime’s very existence. As a result, the regime’s senior elite push the envelope in their provocative ballistic missile program.

Iran considers its missile program and nuclear weapons endeavor as two central tenets. Official sources described Tehran’s missile program as part of its “theory of unconventional warfare”.

“Our defense strategy relies on unconventional warfare,” said former Revolutionary Guards chief Rahim Safavi back on April 24th, 2004. He is currently a senior military advisor to supreme leader Ali Khamenei. The eight-year Iran-Iraq War back in the 1980s delivered a major lesson to Iran to never repeat such a catastrophic engagement. The senior brass in Tehran goes the limit to prevent any such possibility, and constructing a preventive ballistic missile arsenal has that as its specific objective. Iran is not seeking to launch a deterrent attack against another country. In fact, the spirit of their missile arsenal is aimed at preventing any possible attack for purposes of survival. Iran threatens to use its missiles to target Israel, American interests, or U.S. allies in the region.

This is exactly why after defusing Iran’s nuclear program, the international community must focus its attention on codifying and imposing concrete punitive measures targeting Iran’s vast missile arsenal, including its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program. Recent missile tests by Iran justify abrogating the nuclear treaty altogether and a snap back to crippling sanctions.

Shahriar Kia is a press spokesman for Iranian opposition, who advocates for a democratic, secular, nuclear-free Iran. He graduated from North Texas University. His Twitter handle is @shahriarkia