Israeli military still outclasses Iran and others in the Middle East

There was a holistic assessment of the strength of militaries in the Middle East.

The ranking is based on a holistic assessment of the militaries’ operational capabilities and hardware, based on our research and on interviews with Patrick Megahan, an expert from the Foundation of Defense of Democracies’ Military Edge project, and Chris Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

Some countries with large yet incapable militaries rank low on the list; some smaller and technologically advanced militaries from stable states rank fairly high.

1. Israel
2. Turkey
3. Saudi Arabia
4. UAE
5. Iran

sraeli F-15 fighter jets are refueled by a Boeing 707 during an air show over the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, on June 28, 2012. Israel Air Force leaders plan a major revamp in how the service operates. (Agence France-Presse)


Iran has been building its own tanks and long-range missiles since 1992, as well as reverse-engineering its own drones. This means that Iran fields inferior equipment compared with many of its US-supplies neighbors — but gains crucial strategic depth in return.

It has an uninterrupted supply chain to its allies, like Syria’s Assad regime. And it doesn’t have to depend on the good will of an outside power to remain armed.

“Thirty-five years ago, Iran had no local production capability,” Harmer says. “Now they build their own submarines and surface ships. Nobody in the Middle East does that, not even the Israelis.”

Iran is not a major conventional military power, though. As Megahan says, the military is hampered by corruption and poor leadership, with regime loyalty often mattering more than merit among the officer corps. Iran has invested heavily in building its own weaponry, including ballistic missiles. It’s all unproven


A close defense relationship with the US and an energetic domestic defense industry give Israel a qualitative edge over all of the region’s other militaries: Israel has space assets, advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and nuclear weapons. Its air force has incredibly high entry and training standards. “Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world,” Harmer says.

Israel also has one of the region’s most battle-ready armies, a force that has fought in four major engagements since 2006 and has experience securing a few of the most problematic borders on earth.

Israel’s military has also never attempted a coup or ruled the country directly, unlike several others on this list.

Thanks to Israel’s small size, the military can rapidly mobilize its reserves on relatively short notice

“Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world,” an expert who consulted Business Insider on the rankings said.

The Middle East Quarterly discusses Israel qualitative military edge

Israel has boosted by 10 fold its ability to bomb targets.

In 2013, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy looks at a scenario for a war between Israel and Iran.

Gen. James Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), is the Harold Brown chair in defense policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, IDF (Ret.), is director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, former chief of Israeli defense intelligence, and one of the eight Israeli fighter pilots to strike theOsiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981.

Map from a Washington post analysis of Israel striking Iran