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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Does Iran’s Latest Military Exercise Signal a New Defense Doctrine?

Filed under: Iran, Israeli Security

Does Iran’s Latest Military Exercise Signal a New Defense Doctrine?Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is in the midst of a large-scale missile exercise called “Great Prophet 6.” During the exercise, underground missile silos were disclosed, large numbers of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) of different ranges were fired, and a new radar system was revealed.

The main spokesman during the exercise was the IRGC’s aerospace commander, Amir Ali Hagizadeh. In a wide-ranging interview aimed at Arab audiences on the Arabic-language TV channel Al-Alam, he discussed at length the IRGC exercise and its objectives. One received the impression that Iran was well-prepared from a public relations standpoint to present the exercise to regional and international media and decision-makers (a short video was shown on Iranian TV and even uploaded to YouTube).1

The extensive interview with Hagizadeh, combined with statements by other senior IRGC figures, suggests that – along with Iran’s ongoing, intensive development of its nuclear program, particularly in the areas of uranium enrichment and possible launch platforms for nuclear weapons – Iran also is devoting much thought to aspects of its deterrence doctrine against those it regards as its main threats in the region, namely, Israel and the United States.

In that doctrine, a capability to fire ballistic missiles stealthily and surprisingly from hidden launch sites, and to hit American and Israeli targets in the region, holds a central place – while the doctrine still leaves wide room for ambiguity about Iran’s “real” capabilities.

Hagizadeh made clear that Iran aims to integrate its SMM force, which is subordinate to the IRGC, to a considerable extent into its asymmetric-response doctrine, which is a central component of its defense doctrine and national security strategy. At the end of the video shown on Iranian TV at the beginning of the exercise, he emphasized that Iran is not trying to engage in a technological race with the world, but is organizing its defense systems to conduct asymmetric warfare and, implicitly, to cope via asymmetric means with technologically superior enemies. (In the navy as well, the IRGC seeks to apply this doctrine vis-à-vis American superiority, particularly with respect to “swarms” of small boats that Iran intends to use in attacks against the U.S. fleet.)

Hagizadeh also said that Iran had begun building silos in concealed sites throughout its territory fifteen years ago. He defined the missile test-fire during the exercise as “successful,” and said that last year the United States monitored Iranian missile fire in the Indian Ocean and is well aware of these missiles’ accuracy. He added that the United States had made things easier for Iran by building forty to fifty bases at a distance of 200-300 kilometers from Iran, so that Iran does not need to build missiles with a range longer than 2,000 kilometers (which covers Israel and part of Europe). A senior Iranian naval commander noted that during the exercise, Iran “tested 14 ballistic missiles in safe places and they cannot be identified by the enemy under any circumstance.”2

The IRGC aerospace commander referred directly to regions where Iran is already implementing its asymmetric operational strategy regarding the use of SSMs of different ranges. He threatened that: “If the Zionist regime attacks Iran, it will successfully hit the heart of Tel Aviv before the attack planes leave Iranian territory.” He went on to imply that Iran has good intelligence-gathering capabilities for Israel because, using radar, it can detect the departure of Israeli planes at the moment of take-off from the “Palestinian territories” (meaning Israel).3

In a rare statement, the senior IRGC figure referred to a major component of Iran’s deterrence – its long arm, Hizbullah. Responding to a question about how many missiles Iran has and their deployment areas, Hagizadeh noted that since this information is classified he will answer indirectly. He then said that during the Second Lebanon War (the “Thirty-Three Day War”), Hizbullah kept firing missiles throughout the conflict and, unlike in usual circumstances where the ability to fire decreases with time, Hizbullah in fact increased its rate of fire and even the range of the missiles, while Israel failed to destroy the organization’s weapons caches. It is evident that Hagizadeh views Lebanon as a forward missile base for Iran.

He also emphasized that, before the war, Iran devoted much effort and planning to ensure that, once hostilities broke out, it would be able to supply Hizbullah with all the missiles it needed without relying on other countries.

Iran declares publicly that it perceives Lebanon as a “first line of defense” in its national security strategy – both as a deterrent factor and as a response factor – and regards continuous rocket fire as an asymmetric response to Israel’s technological superiority, particularly when it comes to its air force.

At the same time, while continuing to equip Hizbullah with SSMs of different ranges, Iran continues to equip itself with long-range, locally-produced missiles with which it can strike Israeli territory from within its own territory, and is adopting a policy of ambiguity regarding the progress of its nuclear and missile program. Tehran is leaving the work of assaying its total military capabilities to Israel and the West, thus gradually shaping its deterrence doctrine vis-à-vis a possible future attack against its nuclear facilities and its allies in the region – Syria and Hizbullah.

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