International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
How does Iran equip its proxies and allies with increasingly sophisticated and longer-range ballistic missiles and artillery rockets? Fabian Hinz considers Iran’s new missile-proliferation strategy.
The proliferation of ballistic missiles and artillery rockets to non-state actors by the Islamic Republic of Iran is a constant source of tension in the Middle East.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels conduct ballistic-missile strikes on Saudi Arabian cities, airports and oil installations; Hizbullah’s ever-growing rocket and missile arsenal sparks Israeli consideration of military options; and Iranian proxies rocket the United States’ installations in Iraq on an almost weekly basis.
But how does Iran equip its proxies and allies with increasingly sophisticated and longer-range ballistic missiles and artillery rockets? For years, the answer has been through smuggling.
In one example, on 19 March 2021 Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir claimed that all Houthi missiles fired at the Kingdom were ‘made in Iran’, and there is ample evidence that Houthis were the recipients of weapons such as Iran’s short-range Qiam ballistic missile. Iran doubtlessly continues to directly transfer missiles outside its borders to some degree. However, in recent years smuggling has been augmented by two other transfer methods: the provision of guidance kits to modify existing stockpiles of artillery rockets, and the wholescale provision of manufacturing capabilities.
Iranian support for enabling local rocket production is not new.
Reports about the rocket arsenals of Palestinian factions in Gaza regularly cite Iranian assistance for domestic manufacturing, and Hizbullah’s alleged missile factory in the Beqaa Valley became the topic of competing accusations in the Israeli–Hizbullah relationship.
However, closer examination of Iranian sources, documents likely leaked by Israeli intelligence and the missiles unveiled by the Houthis reveal a strategy of empowering Iranian proxies that is more comprehensive than previously thought. In cooperation with Iran’s missile industry, the Quds Force (QF) of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) appears intent on enabling all its main proxies to be able to autonomously manufacture artillery rockets and precision-guided missiles. Also, a special development effort seems to be aimed at creating simple artillery rockets and short-range-missile systems and production units custom-tailored for local production.