Forget Those F-35s and Nukes: Is Iran’s Military Stronger Than Israel’s?

February 7, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IranIsraelMilitaryTechnologyNuclear Weapons

Forget Those F-35s and Nukes: Is Iran’s Military Stronger Than Israel’s?

Israeli media is abuzz over a website that ranks the world’s armies—and placed Iran above Israel.

Is Iran’s military stronger than Israel’s?

Israeli media is abuzz over a website that ranks the world’s armies—and placed Iran above Israel.

Iran’s armed forces ranked thirteenth in the world, according to’s 2018 rankings, which apparently combined various statistics to assemble a composite military power rating (0.3131 for Iran, with 0.00 being a perfect score).

Israel ranked sixteenth, with a military power rating of 0.3444. By comparison, the United States ranks Number One, followed by Russia, China, India, France and Britain.

Curiously, Egypt is in twelfth place, ahead of Iran and Israel. Indonesia is fifteenth, ahead of Israel. On the other hand, Israel is ahead of Pakistan (seventeenth place), North Korea (eighteenth place), and Sweden (thirty-first place). Dead last, in 136th place, was Bhutan. The website says it is in the midst of compiling the 2019 military power rankings.

“It was the third year in a row that Israel fell in the site’s ranking, falling one spot from the previous year and down five spots when it ranked 11th in 2016,” noted the Jerusalem Post. “Iran, meanwhile, climbed to 13th in 2018 from 20th in 2017.”

How exactly does GlobalFirepower calculate these scores?

“The finalized Global Firepower ranking utilizes over 55 individual factors to determine a given nation's PowerIndex ('PwrIndx') score,” says the website. “The unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced, nations to compete with larger, though lesser-developed, ones. Modifiers (in the form of bonuses and penalties) are applied to further refine the list. A perfect PwrIndex score is 0.0000 which is realistically unattainable in the scope of the GFP formula.”

The website further explains that the scores are adjusted by a variety of modifiers. For example, “ranking does not rely solely on total number of weapons available to any one country but rather focuses on weapon diversity.”

The scores also take into account “First World, Second World, and Third World statuses,” while NATO nations are awarded a “slight bonus due to the theoretical sharing of war-making resources.” Other modifiers include geography, industry, natural resources, manpower and financial strength.”

Some politicians will no doubt be relieved to learn that “current political / military leadership is NOT taken into account.” But most important is the factor that in theory should give Israel a decisive edge over Iran, or at least for the time being.

“Nuclear stockpiles are NOT taken into account but recognized / suspected nuclear powers are given a bonus,” GlobalFirepower says. Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, while Iran has tried to develop them in the past, and may or may not be close to developing them now, depending on whom you ask.

While’s formula is opaque, it is likely that the website is using many traditional factors to calculate its scores. For example, Iran’s population is listed at 82 million, with potential military manpower of 47 million, while Israel has a population of 8.3 million, of which 3.6 million are available for military service. Iran has almost 100 times Israel’s landmass and much, much more oil. Iran is listed having more than 900,000 active-duty and reserve military personnel versus Israel’s 615,000, though Iran has fewer tanks and aircraft.

What does all this prove? First, as anyone who peruses defense websites soon learns, rankings of military power are often so arbitrary that they become useless at best and ridiculous at worst. But more important is the arbitrary nature of these indexes, which tend to ignore the conditions that govern military power.

For example, while Iran has a larger military, a bigger population and more military manpower, that wouldn’t help much in a conflict with Israel, which doesn’t share a border with Iran, which in turn means that big Iranian armies have nowhere to go (these factors were important in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, where the two nations were adjacent).

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.