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Iran’s attack on Israel: A look at Tehran’s arsenal of drones and missiles

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Iran launched dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, at Israel Saturday evening after a week of threatening retaliation for an attack on a consulate in Damascus.

“Iran has begun an airborne attack against Israel,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement Saturday. “President Biden is being regularly updated on the situation by his national security team and will meet with them this afternoon at the White House.” 

Iran’s state-run news agency Mehr News reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had announced the start of an “anti-Zionist operation,” which would hit targets in the Palestinian territories, with further details of the operation announced soon. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had for weeks “been preparing for the possibility of a direct attack from Iran” and that his country’s “air defenses are deployed. We are ready for any scenario, both in attack and in defense.” 

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Tehran Israel strike

An Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle, the Shahed-136, is displayed at the Azadi (Freedom) Square in western Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11, 2024. (Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The shortest air distance between Israel and Iran is about 1,070 miles, which would require the longest-range missiles and drones in Iran’s arsenal. 

The drones Iran has launched are reportedly the Shahed model regularly associated with the regime. Iran has sold Shahed-136 drones, self-detonating models known as “suicide drones,” as well as Shahed-107 drones to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

Israel Iran Missiles

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes the War Cabinet at the Kirya in Tel Aviv aftrer the launch of drones from Iran and aimed at Israel. (Prime Minister of Israel @IsraeliPM on X)

Gen. Jack Keane of the Institute for the Study of War (IFSW) on Friday told “Fox & Friends” Iran is most likely to rely on its drones and missiles in any given attack plan given it has “a weak air force … a weak navy” and “not particularly well-trained or … well-equipped” troops. 

Iran has instead heavily invested in developing and producing dozens of different models of drones, including at least 10 models of suicide drones that explode on impact and more than a dozen models of combat drones that can hit ground, sea and air targets and return to base, according to the United States Institute of Peace’s (USIP) Iran Primer. 

Tehran Drone strike

Domestically produced Iranian defense equipment and drones during the Defense Industry Fair in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 23, 2023.  (Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Larger models of the combat variants, such as the Shahed-149, can hit targets up to 1,200 miles away and carry up to 1,100 pounds of munitions or electronic equipment. The larger suicide variants, such as the Arash series, can carry just shy of 600 pounds of explosives and hit targets over 1,200 miles away. 

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Most of the combat drones have surveillance capabilities, able to take photos or record video to mark bombing targets. 

The USIP claimed several of the Iranian drones are modeled after captured U.S. drones, including the Predator, Reaper, Sentinel and ScanEagle 5, as well as the Israeli Hermes drone. In these cases, Iran has borrowed the shape of the vehicles but “not necessarily” the hardware. 

An Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle

An Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle, the Shahed-136, is displayed at the Azadi (Freedom) Square in western Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11, 2024. (Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The most recently introduced model, the Mohajer-10, was unveiled in August 2023, boasting both combat and intelligence capabilities and able to reach Israel while potentially carrying up to 660 pounds of explosives. 

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Many of the suicide drones, those Iran has reportedly launched at Israel — are slower and easier to shoot down with anti-aircraft guns or missiles. For that reason, Israeli experts remain confident the country’s renowned Iron Dome system will be able to handle the potential waves of drones that will hit them in the coming hours. 

Quds UAV Missiles

Missiles and UAVs are shown on the side of the road in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11, 2024. (Hossein Beris/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

However, Iran may also launch some of its cruise missiles, the largest and most diverse arsenal in the Middle East, according to the Washington-based watchdog Iran Watch. 

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Iranian Shahed drone in flight

Iran showed video of a Shahed drone in flight Feb. 24, 2023. (IRINN via AP)

Former CENTCOM Gen. Kenneth McKenzie in 2022 said Iran has over 3,000 ballistic missiles in addition to its cruise missiles, and the country made “substantial improvements over the past decade in the precision and accuracy of its missiles, which make them an increasingly potent conventional threat.” 

Iran Watch identified four types of cruise missiles in Tehran’s arsenal: the Soumar, the Hoveizeh, the Ya Ali and the Paveh. The Paveh is the most recently unveiled model, introduced in 2023, and can hit targets over 1,000 miles away. 

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