Escalation with Iran: How strong is Israel? War on multiple fronts?

In terms of overall military effectiveness, the Israeli and Iranian militaries are not that far apart, according to the Global Firepower Index 2024. In the global ranking, Iran ranks 14th, followed by Israel at 17th.

by Sededin Dedovic
Escalation with Iran: How strong is Israel? War on multiple fronts?
© Majid Saeedi / Getty Images

Long-standing tensions between Israel and Iran have raised concerns about the possibility of a wider armed conflict between the two nations. If such a conflict were to occur, would Israel be adequately prepared to meet the challenge? Obviously, Israel must contend with a variety of unpredictable factors, including whether Iran's non-state allies will become involved in the conflict.

Chief among these allies is Hezbollah in Lebanon, which receives significant financial support from Iran. In addition, Houthi rebels in Yemen and certain Shiite paramilitary groups in Iraq could potentially join the fight or be deployed by Iran to provide military assistance.

According to Arieh Shauli Shalikar, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces who was speaking to respectable DeutscheWelle, Israel has long prepared for the threat of war on multiple fronts. It highlights three key aspects of Israel's preparatory strategy.

First, the focus is on expanding defense systems, particularly air defense systems such as the Iron Dome, Patriot, David's Sling, and Arrow systems. At the same time, offensive capabilities are constantly evolving.

The Iron Dome air-defense system fires to intercept a rocket over the city of Ashdod© Ilia Yefimovich / Getty Images

"During an attack, you cannot simply defend yourself, you must immediately start a counterattack, following the motto that the best defense is a good attack," asserts Shalikar for DW.

Finally, Israel is actively working to establish a broad regional and international alliance. In terms of overall military effectiveness, the Israeli and Iranian militaries do not differ greatly, according to the Global Firepower Index 2024.

Iran ranks 14th globally, with Israel following close behind at 17th. The index also provides a comparative analysis of both armed forces. Iran maintains superiority over Israel in terms of troop strength and the number of tanks and armored vehicles.

However, geographical considerations moderate the significance of these numbers. Israel and Iran separate other countries such as Iraq and Jordan, with a distance of about 1,850 kilometers from Jerusalem to Tehran. "In reality, the conflict would not take place in the form of a conventional war, but as a kind of long-range exchange of blows," explains Fabian Hinz, a Middle East expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

As far as Iran is concerned, any armed conflict would be fought primarily from the air. According to the Global Firepower Index, Israel has a clear advantage over Iran, especially in terms of air power. Israel has 241 fighter jets compared to Iran's 181.

Overall, Israel's military has 612 aircraft, while Iran has 551. However, what is most important is the quality of the military aircraft, notes Hinz. The planes would play a significant, perhaps decisive, role on the Israeli side in the event of a conflict.

On the Iranian side, however, they would not play a significant role as their fleet would be challenging to replenish due to sanctions. Iran may have acquired some aircraft in the 1990s and is currently seeking to purchase Russian-made aircraft.

"But fundamentally, it is clear that Iran cannot keep up with the Israeli Air Force," Hinz argued. Therefore, Tehran is primarily focused on the development of missiles and drones.

Israeli soldiers give peace and thumbs-up gestures as Israeli tanks and troops move near the border with Gaza on October 28, 202© Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

It remains questionable how effective they would be in repelling a potential Israeli airstrike.

"I guess it wouldn't be very successful," notes the expert. "Iran lacks a serious protective shield." But Iran's drone and missile attacks have highlighted areas where Israel needs to improve, says Alexander Greenberg, an Iran expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

He points to the use of drones. Taking them down isn't a significant technical challenge, Greenberg explains – basically, a regular machine gun would do. "But it also depends on the number of drones. It became clear on Sunday that you also have to be able to defend yourself against a large number of drone attacks.

Israel has to be ready for that." Israel's allies intercepted some of the attacker's missiles. The Iranian attack showed that there is no such thing as a hermetically sealed, absolutely closed system, notes IDF spokesman Shalikar.

"Whether 300 or 3,000 missiles are fired, some will eventually penetrate the protective shield. That's why the hit rate over the weekend was not 100%, but about 99%," he explains. "We intercept most of them, but we know we will never be able to intercept them.

This makes the functioning of civilian security on the home front, including early warning systems and air raid shelters, that much more critical." Another military challenge for Israel would be a major armed conflict with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, often called Iran's "proxy," is probably the most armed non-state group in the world, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Israel could use the Iron Dome system to counter rocket attacks from Lebanon, says expert Fabian Hinz.

"In general, the defense systems are ready for use at any time and work very well. However, it seems to me that the central problem is the mass of the projectile," reports DW.