Iran’s Missile Attack Against Israel

April 15, 2024

Publication Type: 

  • Articles and Reports

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile


John Krzyzaniak

On Saturday, April 13, Iran launched a large, coordinated attack on Israel, reportedly firing more than 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles over the span of several hours. Remarkably, Israel, along with its partners including the United States, United Kingdom, and France—and reportedly Jordan and Saudi Arabia—intercepted the overwhelming majority of these, with some nine ballistic missiles causing minor damage to two Israeli military bases.


What did Iran fire?

Iran launched a variety of systems that travel at different speeds and altitudes and approach their targets from different angles. The available evidence indicates that, at a minimum, Iran used the following systems:

  • Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 one-way attack drones
  • Paveh land-attack cruise missiles
  • Kheibar Shekan solid-propellant medium-range ballistic missiles
  • Emad and Ghadr liquid-propellant medium-range ballistic missiles

Iran appears not to have used its older ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, including the Shahab-3 or the Sejjil. Nor did it launch its recently unveiled Fattah hypersonic missile, which is likely still under development, or the heavy-payload Khorramshahr missile.

The Iran Watch Table of Iran’s Missile Arsenal contains details on all of Iran’s deployed missiles.

Footage released by Iranian media showed numerous missiles launching from different locales.

What did we learn about Iran’s missile capabilities?

The attack was notable for its scale: it involved approximately ten times as many ballistic missiles as Iran has used in prior attacks on other targets, as well as cruise missiles and drones. The sheer quantity provides some insight into the overall size of Iran’s missile arsenal and its production capabilities. Pentagon officials have previously stated that Iran possesses over 3,000 ballistic missiles, but independently estimating the size of Iran’s missile arsenal with any certainty has been difficult. That Iran’s attack against Israel involved around 120 ballistic missiles suggests that the 3,000 figure is credible; Iranian military planners would presumably have allowed only a small fraction of the country’s total arsenal to be employed in what could be just Iran’s opening salvo of a long conflict. Moreover, it seems the ballistic missiles were all launched nearly simultaneously, suggesting that Iran may have more than 100 launchers for medium-range missiles. The available evidence points toward extensive use of mobile launchers.

Iran also demonstrated an ability to synchronize a large, complex operation. Iran’s Shahed-series UAVs have a cruising speed of approximately 180 km/hr, meaning it would take them upwards of seven hours to traverse the 1,200 km-plus distance between Iran and Israel. The Paveh cruise missile, by contrast, can reach speeds of around 735 km/hr, for a travel time of at least an hour-and-a-half. Finally, Iranian ballistic missiles can reach Israel’s territory in under 15 minutes. The launches appear to have been structured so that the weapons would all arrive at approximately the same time. Further, Iran also enlisted the help of its non-state partners and proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, adding yet another logistical challenge.

The biggest weakness in Iran’s missile force that was exposed in the April 13 attack was the weapons’ inability to evade Israel’s air defenses—a shortcoming all the more glaring considering the operation’s relatively sophisticated overall coordination. In recent years, Iran has emphasized the development of systems that can theoretically dodge missile interceptors, although none of these was used in the attack. These include the Fattah, billed as Iran’s first “hypersonic” missile, as well as a supersonic cruise missile that Iran claims to have developed. Iran’s failure to penetrate Israel’s defenses in any meaningful way while using its baseline missile models in this attack suggests the recent developmental focus on more intricate systems is well-founded and likely to continue. Of course, if the attack had had a greater element of surprise, or if Israel had not had help from other countries, the outcome may have been different.


How did this compare to previous Iranian missile attacks?

This was the first attack on Israel launched directly from Iranian territory, and Iran used tenfold more missiles and drones than it has used in past attacks.

Major Iranian Missile and Drone Attacks Since 2017



Launch location

Target Location

Munitions fired

Stated Reason


Islamic State


Deir Ezzor, Syria


Zolfaghar, Qiam (~7 total)

Retaliation for June 2017 terrorist attacks in Tehran


Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan


Koya, Iraq

(~7 total)

Self-defense; Retaliation for sabotage acts by Kurdish separatist groups


Islamic State


Hajin, Syria

Zolfaghar, Qiam (~6 total)

Retaliation for September 2018 terrorist attack in Ahvaz


Saudi Aramco facilities


Abqaiq and Khureis, Saudi Arabia

Delta-Wing UAV (~18 total), Quds LACM (~7 total)

Unknown. Iran denied conducting the attack


U.S. forces

Kermanshah; Khorramabad?

Ain Al-Asad Airbase; Erbil airport, Iraq

Fateh-313, Qiam (mod.) (~15 total)

Retaliation for January 2020 killing of Qassem Soleimani


“Mossad agents”


Erbil, Iraq

(~12 total)

Retaliation for March 2022 killing of two IRGC generals in Damascus


“Mossad agents”

Kermanshah; Khosrowshah

Erbil, Iraq

Fateh-110? (~ 11 total)

Retaliation for December 2023 killing of IRGC general in Damascus


Islamic State

Darkhovin, Khuzestan?

Taltita, Syria

Kheibar Shekan (~4 total)

Retaliation for January 2024 terrorist attack in Kerman


Israeli military sites

Multiple, including near Tabriz and Shiraz

Nevatim Airbase

Shahed UAVs (~170 total); Paveh LACMs (~36 total); Emad, Ghadr, Kheibar Shekan (~120 total)

Retaliation for April 2024 Israeli airstrike killing six IRGC officials


Other Iran Watch Resources for Understanding Iranian Missiles and Drones

  • Iran’s Missile Milestones: A running timeline of major developments in the Islamic Republic’s development of missiles, starting in 1984.
  • Iran’s Missile Program, Past and Present: A narrative overview of Iran’s missile program, the key institutions involved in the program, and the role of sanctions and export controls in slowing the program.
  • Has Iran Become the Master of its Drone Destiny? An interview with two experts on the state of Iran’s aerial drone program and its proliferation of these drones to other countries.
  • Clipping Tehran’s Wings: An assessment of the state of Iran’s drone industry and how sanctions and export controls can continue to slow the country’s progress.
  • Leveling the Field: A report explaining the asymmetric capabilities of Iran and its non-state partners, and how they use these capabilities to their advantage.