This Dossier looks at Iran's missile capabilities, the efforts to counter the threat they pose by Gulf Arab states and the broader evolution of security structures in the region. It is a valuable resource for all those seeking to understand the 'security complex' that encompasses all states in the Gulf.

Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles are instrumental to its military doctrine and deterrence strategy. Yet despite having long faced a direct threat from these missiles, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council remain unable or unwilling to effectively coordinate and integrate their missile-defence capabilities. They have gained a measure of protection through bilateral procurement of technology and expertise from the United States. But a more strategically efficient approach would be to pool resources such as radars and other sensors, and to integrate their systems in ways that require difficult compromises between state sovereignty and security.

Written by a team of IISS experts, Missile-Defence Cooperation in the Gulf contributes to the ongoing policy debate on Middle Eastern collective security. The Dossier examines the development of Iran’s missile capabilities over several decades, parallel efforts to counter the threat they pose by Gulf Arab states and the broader evolution of security structures in the region. It is a valuable resource for policymakers, scholars and government officials seeking to understand the ‘security complex’ that encompasses all states in the Gulf, and that shapes their decisions on politically sensitive issues of missile defence.

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  • Introduction

    This report examines the threat posed by Iran’s medium- and short-range ballistic missiles to the security of Gulf Arab countries. It analyses how the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have sought to address the threat, and how they could do so more effectively in the future. At the centre of these seemingly simple issues...
  • Chapter 1: The Iranian Missile Threat

    According to one argument, the Iranian regime is committed to exporting its brand of Islamic radicalism to the rest of the Middle East, and to subverting rival states by creating and backing anti-government groups within their societies. Iranian support for Hizbullah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Shia political organisations in Bahrain and elsewhere is intended to destabilise countries that have worked to contain Iran’s...
  • Chapter 2: Security Cooperation on the Arabian Peninsula: Challenges and Prospects

    Diplomatic and defence officials from Washington meet with their Gulf counterparts twice per year to discuss options for mitigating the Iranian missile threat. Their discussions primarily focus on missile defence and the desirability of pooling resources and capabilities, both bilaterally with US forces in the region and as part of a multilateral framework with willing partners on the Arabian Peninsula. These meetings have given rise to some encouraging developments. The...
  • Chapter 3: Neutralising the Missile Threat

    Options for countering the Iranian missile threat vary in scope, cost and potential effectiveness. Historically, the United States has relied on terminal missile defences to protect military sites, population centres and critical infrastructure. The US has also used offensive operations to destroy missile launchers on the ground, albeit with limited success. While these active defence measures are the focus of this report, there are other means for degrading Iran’s missile...
  • Chapter 4: Notional Missile-Defence Architectures

    Neutralising the Iranian missile threat will require a multifaceted approach that leverages diplomacy and deterrence, as well as passive and active defences. But before they create and select options for protecting the Arabian Peninsula from Iran’s growing missile arsenal, political leaders and military planners from the Arab monarchies and the United States must establish a set of objectives suitable to the task. These objectives can then be developed into a...
  • Conclusion: The Way Forward for Missile Defence

    This report has sought to explain an apparent conundrum in Gulf security. Iran’s stock of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles poses a direct threat to the security of its Gulf Arab neighbours. However, those neighbours, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have taken only limited steps to counter the threat. These steps have been largely bilateral, with individual GCC states procuring missile-defence technology and expertise from the...
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Missile-defence cooperation in the Gulf