Saudi Arabia Vs Iran: Which Country Has the Strongest Military Force?

From fighter jets to cyber security—how do the Middle Eastern giants compare?
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Saudi Arabia Vs Iran: Which Country Has the Strongest Military Force? BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Although in terms of geography Iran and Saudi Arabia are separated only by the Persian Gulf, they are political worlds apart. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia is ruled by a king with close U.S. ties, while the Shia-majority Iran is an Islamic republic that views the West—and Saudi Arabia—with suspicion.

Recent unrest in the Middle East has further deteriorated relations. Iran backed the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War, putting itself directly at loggerheads with the U.S.-aligned Saudi Arabia.

Now the proxy conflict has moved to Yemen, where a civil war has raged since 2015. Saudi Arabia says that the Houthi rebels, who want to wrest control of the country, are backed and trained by Iran. Saudi armed forces are heavily involved in the conflict, conducting a number of deadly airstrikes targeting Houthis, which have been condemned by Iran and human rights groups alike for killing civilians.

UN-facilitated peace talks are currently underway in Sweden in an attempt to end the war, which has put 8.4 million Yemenis at risk of starvation, according to the BBC. Iran and Saudi say they support the peace talks, neither will be represented in Sweden.

Peace in Yemen would not signal peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia; tragically, the proxy war is likely a sideshow in their ongoing conflict. The two countries have built impressive armed forces, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

Iran has numbers on its side, with a large base made up of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Artesh regular military. However, sanctions have halted the army's technological advancement, and much of their equipment is now aging.

Saudi Arabia's military budget dwarfs Iran's, allowing them to import high-quality weapons from Western nations, although their failure to beat the Houthis in Yemen suggests that it may not be money well spent. As Yemen airstrikes show, their air force may be confident and powerful, but it also seems to often be misdirected and unsupported by ground troops.

Using numbers from the website Global Firepower, we've compared the two nation's armed forces side by side. From fighter jets to cyber warfare capabilities, these are the strengths and weaknesses of the Iranian and Saudi armies.