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Why Iran's missile capabilities present an ongoing threat

Domestically produced drones played an important role in Iran's attack on Israel. With a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, they were intended to destroy hundreds of targets in Israel.

According to the Israeli army, Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israeli targets during the attack that unfolded in the early hours of Sunday morning. Israel and its allies, which included the US, the UK and some Arab countries, managed to fend off 99% of all drones and missiles fired by Iran, the Israeli military reported.

"The attack was a serious attempt to overwhelm the Israeli defense systems," said Fabian Hinz, an expert on Iran's military capability.

Hinz, an expert in drone and missile systems at the UK-based think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told DW that Iran's attack was more than a symbolic show of force.

"Iran wanted to hit and destroy its targets. But it didn't work particularly well. The interception rate by Israeli and American defense systems was extraordinarily high," he said.

Iran says attack 'demonstration of power'

Iran, on the other hand, claims to have carried out a successful retaliatory operation against Israel, which Tehran blames for an April 1st strike on a diplomatic building in Damascus, Syria, that killed two generals.

The consensus of experts being quoted in Iranian state media is that the attack was a "demonstration" rather than an "exercise" of Iranian power.

Neighboring countries and the US were informed of the attack plans in advance, and Iran maintains it is capable of overwhelming Israel's defense systems if it chooses to do so.

However, expert Hinz believes the fact that the failure of the barrage to strike Israeli targets could call into question the deterrent effect of Iran's drone and missile systems.

"For Iran, its own deterrent power depends on precisely these systems, and on the ability to launch such attacks," he said.

According to Iran's semi-official Tasnim News, which is associated with the Revolutionary Guards, the drones deployed by Iran in the attack were of the "Shahed-136" type, also known as kamikaze drones. 

They are light, small, cheap and barely detectable by radar. They can carry a simple warhead of around 50 kilograms and can also reach Israel with their range.

The threat of Iranian drones

Despite Western sanctions, Iran has continued to develop its drone program over the last 30 years. Today, Tehran has a large arsenal of drones at its disposal.

Iran began developing this technology very early on and has been producing drones since the 1980s, drone and security tech expert Arthur Holland Michel from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York, told DW.

"Compared to missiles, drones do not necessarily require highly developed components. They do not necessarily require a very expensive missile system. The technology required for drones is not subject to any sanctions or trade restrictions. For example, you can use simple propellers like you would use for hobby model airplanes," Michel said.

Due to technological progress, the threat posed by Iranian drones has increased considerably in recent years. Michel added that Iran is producing more precise drones in larger numbers. However, every attack reveals more about how to build better defense.

"With every attack, especially on US forces or in this case on Israel, Iran provides the defenders with information on how they can better counter this threat," said Michel.

"I think if we had seen an attack of this magnitude five years ago, we wouldn't have seen as many kills [missile interceptions] as we did, with a 99% interception rate. It's a cat-and-mouse game," he added.

Despite its successful defense against the Iranian attack, Israel must prepare for a "huge range of scenarios" when deciding on its response to Iran's unprecedented direct attack on Saturday night, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), told DW on Sunday.

Iran relies on short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for air strikes. The longer-range "Shahab-2" and "Shahab-3" missiles have a range of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), according to the Arms Control Association (ACA).

"The Iranians have missiles with a very long range and very good precision. Not many countries in the world have that," said Hinz.

"At the same time, of course, they have the problem that their military opponents, the US and Israel, are among the absolute world leaders when it comes to military technology," he added.

Hinz believes that the US and Israel may have gained new insights into Tehran's weapons arsenal as a result of the Iranian attack.

"They can collect a wealth of data, which the Iranians can no longer do once they have launched their missiles."

This article was originally written in German.

Second publication by courtesy of DW


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