Could Iran’s military deliver on leaders’ warmongering?

Could Iran’s military deliver on leaders’ warmongering?

Issuing threats of war is not an uncommon phenomenon in the context of the Iranian regime’s political discourse. But, recently, Iranian leaders have escalated their heated rhetoric to an unprecedented level and threatened the US with war. In fact, Iranian authorities also warned that the “world would unite” to force the US to change its policies. 

Iran’s state-owned media outlets have been spreading the same narrative. For example, Ali Reza Farqani, the editor-in-chief of Iran’s Arman newspaper and a former prime minister, who previously warned of mass kidnappings and the killing of US citizens, as well as the rape and killing of one of the daughters of former US President Barack Obama, emphasized in a recent editorial that Iran “needs a foreign war” and that “war is a blessing.” The latter is a phrase well known in Iranian politics as it was used by former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. 

It is not just the hard-liners who robustly support Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who are making such threats, as the so-called moderate forces of Iran’s political establishment have been vocal too. President Hassan Rouhani warned Washington that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

Putting the Iranian politicians’ rhetoric aside, can Iran score a victory against the US if it engages in an all-out war? To adequately answer this question, several issues, including the military strength and capabilities, as well as the military geography of both nations, should be examined. In addition, not only the quantity but also the quality of both countries’ weaponries should be taken into consideration. 

First of all, the US military budget dwarfs Iran’s, as it is roughly 40 times higher. Washington’s military budget, at about 4 percent of the nation’s GDP and the highest military expenditure in the world, is more than $600 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, while Tehran’s military budget is about 3 percent of the nation’s GDP at approximately $14 billion. 

In addition, Iran has a much smaller population than the US: Iran has an estimated population of 80 million, while the US’ is over 300 million. This affects each country’s military capabilities.

When it comes it manpower, Washington has almost three times more active, reserve and available personnel for military service than the Islamic Republic. The US has 1.3 million active, 811,000 reserve and 73 million available personnel for war, while the Iranian leaders have about 550,000 active, 1.8 million reserve and 23 million available. 

In addition to having more manpower, the US military personnel are also much better trained and have been provided with far more advanced equipment than their Iranian counterparts. 

Despite Iran's leaders’ hyperbole and threats of all-out war against Washington, Tehran’s military is literally no match for that of the US.

Dr Majid Rafizadeh

Considering land forces, the US military has much more superior capabilities than Iran. When one combines different elements of land forces, the US fields eight times more tanks, total artillery (including self-propelled and rocket artillery) and armored fighting vehicles than Iran — roughly 60,000 compared to 8,000. More importantly, Iran’s field weaponry is mostly outdated

Since the two countries do not share a border, the air force and navy become critical factors in this equation. When the relevant capabilities of the two countries are examined, the US — whose air and naval forces are reportedly the most powerful in the world — indisputably dominates and outstrips Iran’s forces. The US’ fleet of aircraft (including the highly advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth jets, fighters, attack helicopters and multirole aircrafts) is nearly 15 times bigger than Iran’s. Washington boasts more than 12,000 aircraft, while Iran possesses only about 800. 

Finally, in an all-out war, nuclear capabilities would swiftly tip the balance of power against the ruling mullahs. The US has more than 7,000 nuclear warheads, while Iran — although it reportedly has a powerful nuclear program — still does not own any warheads. 

When comparing Iran’s military capabilities with that of the US, Washington undeniably comes out on top in every aspect. According to the 2018 report of Global Fire Power, which ranks countries based on their military might, the US has the most powerful military in the world.

It took the US just a few weeks to defeat Iraq and Afghanistan’s militaries under Saddam Hussein and the Taliban respectively. Iranian leaders went to war with Saddam but they could not score a victory after eight years of a bloody and devastating conflict. 

In other words, in spite of the threats from Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force chief, that the Iranian military is capable of destroying all that the US owns, if the regime went to war with Washington, the US would most likely paralyze various parts of Iran’s military in a matter of weeks. 

Despite the Iranian leaders’ hyperbole and threats of all-out war against Washington, Tehran’s military is literally no match for that of the US. In addition, Iranian leaders must stop threatening other countries, including the US, with war because any conflict would be devastating for millions of people in the region.  


  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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