February 16, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran’s Provision of Missiles to Russia Remains Distinct Possibility

February 16, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran’s Provision of Missiles to Russia Remains Distinct Possibility

Latest Developments

The European Union (EU) may soon sanction seven entities tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) that are providing drones to Russia, Axios reported on Wednesday, citing two EU officials. The potential targets include the IRGC Aerospace Force and the IRGC Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, both of which also support Tehran’s ballistic missile program. While Iran has not supplied Russia with ballistic missiles, Moscow seeks to procure them from the Islamic Republic, according to Western officials. Should Iranian missiles reach Russia, they would likely strengthen Moscow’s ability to wreak havoc in Ukraine.

Expert Analysis

“While Iran’s drones shocked much of the world in 2022, their impact pales in comparison to Iran’s most prized and lethal weapon — its arsenal of ballistic missiles, which are growing in quality and quantity.”— Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program

Iran is home to the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, as multiple American directors of national intelligence have attested. Ballistic missiles are a key element of Iran’s security policy. The regime uses them to deter and coerce adversaries while keeping the option open for a potential nuclear delivery vehicle.

Since agreeing to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has launched at least 228 ballistic missiles (defined as surface-to-surface missiles with a ballistic trajectory and space/satellite launch vehicles) from its own territory. This number includes failed and successful flight tests, military drills, and military operations.

In addition to tests, Tehran also transfers ballistic missiles and associated technologies to its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. This weaponry bolsters Iran’s forward-deployed deterrent and threatens U.S. forces in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility as well as partners such as Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

An Emboldened Tehran

Iran’s ballistic missiles give Tehran the confidence and security it needs to pursue its revisionist foreign policy with less fear of military reprisal. Increased risk-taking by the regime has resulted as a consequence. Between 2017 and 2022, Iran launched over half a dozen ballistic missile operations from its own territory, one of which, in 2020, included strikes on bases in Iraq housing American soldiers. Failure to deter Iran will likely ensure further missile use. In 2022, for example, Iran launched almost three times as many ballistic missiles as it did in 2021 and killed an American citizen in one of the strikes.

The JCPOA Fails to Counter Iran’s Missiles

While the JCPOA does not address ballistic missiles, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA, terminates already non-binding embargoes on both Iranian missile testing and transfers by October 2023. In so doing, the resolution weakens previous UN penalties on Iran’s missile program and undermines Washington and Europe’s ability to enact a more coercive Iran policy. Although Tehran’s 228 missile launches since the JCPOA are already inconsistent with UNSCR 2231, Iran may be waiting until October 2023 to supply Russia with missiles in order to avoid an international backlash.

Related Analysis

Arsenal: Assessing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Further Evidence Emerges of Iran’s Support for Russia’s War in Ukraine,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Sanctions Israel Nonproliferation