Should Anyone Care about the Iranian Missile Strikes?

A military truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen during a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2015.

An emboldened Iran may feel tempted to match its covert actions with more overt missile strikes.

On Sunday June 18, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) launched six ballistic missiles at Islamic State (ISIS) positions in the Syrian theater. The IRGC described the strikes—which intended to hit Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province—as a response to the June attacks by the terror group against the Iranian parliament and the shrine of the founding father of the Islamic Republic. Iranian drones, which have been flying in the Syrian theater since at least 2014, allegedly captured footage of some of the impact.

But in the aftermath of the strike, which took most of the international community by surprise, a better understanding of Iran’s missile aptitudes as well as motivations for resorting to a show of force appear more necessary than ever before.

Why Should We Care About Iran’s Missiles?

Although there is no precise open-source tally of every single Iranian ballistic missile, according to the former Director of National Intelligence, Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.” Iran’s experiences during the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War pushed the country to procure and produce this arsenal, underscoring the importance of these weapons for purposes of deterrence, intimidation and retaliation. Fast forward almost three decades and ballistic missiles have become a central part of Iran’s security strategy and a highly valued regime asset.

What Type of Missile Did Iran Launch and Why Does it Matter?

Knowing what type and class of ballistic missile was used would aid in assessing the readiness and effectiveness of select munitions in the Islamic Republic’s arsenal. For instance, choosing a solid-propellant missile would mean that Tehran needs less time to prepare it for launch. Initially, Israeli sources believed that Iran fired a liquid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) called the Shahab-3, which is now almost two decades old. Conversely, Iranian outlets initially claimed their country fired the Zulfiqar, a solid-fueled short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). American journalists citing unnamed government sources then weighed-in, reporting that the Fateh-110—Iran’s first-generation single-stage solid-fueled SRBM and a precursor to the Zulfiqar—was allegedly used in the strike. Yet this is hard to believe, as the Fateh-110 cannot traverse the distance between Iran’s western IRGC-AF bases and eastern Syria.