April 11, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Iran has ten ways to attack Israel; which one will it choose?

Iran's vowed punishment of Israel might manifest either through proxies or direct means, including ballistic missiles and drones.
April 11, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Iran has ten ways to attack Israel; which one will it choose?

Iran's vowed punishment of Israel might manifest either through proxies or direct means, including ballistic missiles and drones.

Iran has vowed to “punish” Israel for an airstrike in Damascus on April 1 that Tehran blamed on the Jewish state. Over the last week and a half, Iranian leaders have made repeated threats against Israel. This has led to heightened tensions in the region. Iran has a track record of threatening Israel. It also has a track record of using its proxies to threaten and attack Israel. What follows is a list of different types of attacks the Islamic Republic could carry out based on how it has behaved in the past.

A ballistic missile strike from Iran 

Iran has a large arsenal of ballistic missiles of varying types and ranges. Some are solid-fueled, and some are liquid-fueled, which means some can be rushed out to be fired relatively quickly, and others take time to prepare and position. Israel’s mortal enemy has used ballistic missiles frequently in the past.

Tehran used ballistic missiles to target the Al-Asad Base in Iraq on January 8, 2020, in retaliation for America’s assassination of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. Iran launched up to 22 missiles, targeting both Asad where US troops are based in western Iraq, and the Kurdistan autonomous region that hosts US forces. The missiles were launched from several locations in Iran, and 11 of them struck Asad base. Iran informed the Iraqis just before they launched the missiles.

The missiles were launched beginning at 1:20 a.m., and the attack continued for several hours. It is believed that Iran used the Fateh 313 and Qiam ballistic missiles in the attack, which contain warheads of more than 450 kg.

A ballistic missile strike from Iraq

Iran has been moving missiles and drones to Iraq for several years. Beginning in around 2018, reports emerged in various media that Iran was basing missiles in Iraq. It was not clear after 2019 what became of these missiles because the reports about them stopped occurring.

However, it is clear that during the period 2018-2019, the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that work closely with Iran had extended their control into Anbar Province and defeated ISIS there. Iran then moved to create a base called Imam Ali in Syria near Albukamal on the Iraqi border. Iran uses this area to smuggle weapons via Syria to Hezbollah.

Anbar Province is the closest part of Iraq to Israel. It is also where Saddam Hussein placed Scud missiles that targeted Israel in the 1991 war. A lot of effort was spent at the time by the US-led coalition seeking to “hunt” down the elusive Scud launchers. Iran may seek to place long-range missiles in Iraq and recreate a Saddam scenario.

New long-range ballistic missiles Iran recently tested

In January 2024, Iran carried out missile attacks on Pakistan and Syria, claiming to be targeting terrorist groups. Tehran used this occasion to test the precision of its missiles. It used long-range and relatively new Kheibar Shekan ballistic missiles in Syria.

The attack was a “message” for the US and Israel, according to Iranian media. The missile had been unveiled in 2022. Iran claims it has a range of 1,450 km. and is supposed to have high-speed and precision-strike capabilities, which makes it a dangerous strategic weapon.

A combination drone and cruise missile attack 

In September 2019, Iran carried out an attack using drones and cruise missiles that targeted Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil-processing facility. The attacks were carried out at night from Iran. It was initially believed that about a dozen cruise missiles were involved and two dozen drones; the Saudis said seven missiles and 18 drones were used. The drones had a delta-wing configuration, which made them similar to the Iranian Shahed 136 drones, which are now common. The full details of the types of drones used were not clear.

Iran was able to avoid Saudi Arabia’s air defenses and radar by planning a complex mission and also using an attack vector going through an area that was either undefended or where the systems in place were not being used correctly. The attack, which caused damage but did not kill anyone, was seen at the time as a symbolic curtain-raiser on Iran’s capabilities.

Iraqi militias using drones or missiles 

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have been increasing their threats to Israel in recent weeks. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which is an Iranian proxy group, frequently claims to have targeted Israel. It has claimed to target Eilat, for instance. A drone struck a hangar in Iraq in the early hours of April 1. Another one was recently intercepted by the C-Dome system aboard a Sa’ar 6 Israeli ship.

Iraqi militias could be mobilized by Iran to carry out attacks on Israel. This would give Iran plausible deniability. Tehran used these militias in the past to target Israel with drones in May 2021. The groups in Iraq also targeted US forces and killed three Americans in Jordan in January 2024 in a drone attack.

Iranian-backed terrorists in Syria 

Iran has a plethora of Iranian-backed groups in Syria. These include Hezbollah operatives who work near the Golan as part of the terrorist group’s “Golan File” unit. Hezbollah sought to threaten Israel from an area near the Golan using a “killer drone” unit in the fall of 2019. Israel struck the Hezbollah cell at the time. In recent months, Hezbollah has also sought to use Syrian army facilities near the Golan.

Iran also works with the Fetemiyoun, a group of Afghan Shi’ites it recruited, using the group to patrol areas near the Euphrates River in Syria. The group is basically run by the Iranian IRGC. Iran could transfer weapons to this militia or other ones and operationalize them for attacks on Israel. Tehran has used these types of groups to carry out dozens of attacks on US forces in Syria in the last several years.

An Iranian-backed coalition of Houthis, Hezbollah, and other groups 

Iran could attempt to carry out a multi-front attack on Israel using groups it has already pushed to attack the Jewish state since October 7. For instance, the Houthis in Yemen have long-range missiles and drones that they have already used numerous times to threaten Israel. The Houthi threat goes back to at least 2020 when they acquired the Iranian Shahed 136. This is the same type of drone that Iran has exported to Russia, having a range of around 2,000 km.

Tehran has systematically increased the range of its various types of drones. It prefers kamikaze drones because of their low cost, and also because they can be pre-programmed to fly waypoint flight trajectories and shooting actions that make them difficult to detect. They are also not very large, which also gives some of them a low radar cross signature.

Iran could seek to push several of its partners and proxies to carry out a multi-front attack. It has already attempted this during the current war on Israel. For instance, Iraqi militias have targeted Eilat, as did an Iranian-backed group in Syria in November.

Hezbollah has fired thousands of missiles at Israel. The Houthis have launched cruise missiles, drones and also ballistic missiles. Iran seeks to ring Israel with this “fire” and has already successfully mobilized most of the components involved. Israeli officials have described this as a multi-front threat that involves up to seven fronts.

An attack on Israel in other countries 

In recent decades, Iran has threatened Israelis, Israeli embassies and things that are linked to Israel in other countries. For instance, a 2012 bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, was linked to Hezbollah. Iran has also been behind plots in India, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Thailand and many countries. The Islamic Republic works through proxies such as Hezbollah and also has a long track record of making these kinds of threats. Tehran may believe that targeting an Israeli embassy or Israelis abroad is an easier way to strike at Israel.

An attack on the Kurdistan region in Iraq 

Iran has frequently targeted the Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq over the last two years, claiming that it is because of links to Israel. It has targeted the homes of Kurdish businessmen, killing one and destroying the house of another. Iran frequently uses missiles and drones in these attacks.

Pushing Hezbollah into a war 

Iran has pushed Hezbollah to attack Israel numerous times since the Hamas attack on October 7. The Lebanese-based terrorist group has already fired thousands of missiles at the Jewish state. Tehran could seek to use Hezbollah to escalate attacks on Israel. This would be the war in the North that Jerusalem has been warning about for months and preparing for. Iran has sought to increase the group’s capabilities in recent years and weighs when to use Hezbollah to escalate.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power