Key point: Saudi Arabia's DF-3 missiles are horribly inaccurate and have never been used.
You would be hard pressed to find two more determined foes of Iran other than Saudi Arabia and Israel. The latter country has long been perturbed by bellicose anti-Israeli rhetoric from Tehran, and has unleashed hundreds of air strikes and artillery bombardments targeting Iran’s efforts to arm Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Syria.
Meanwhile, Riyadh appear to see itself as engaged in nothing short of an epic struggle for dominance of the Middle East, and has oriented its foreign policy around combating the perceived Iranian menace, even in places its influence is moderate at best.
Iran hawks are preoccupied by the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon—a weapon which, given the limitations of Tehran’s air and sea forces, would need to be delivered by a ballistic missile. Iran’s continuing development of such missiles has been proposed as a casus belli, and was cited to justify the U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear deal struck in 2014 (the deal constrained Iran from developing nuclear warheads, but not ballistic missiles to carry them in). It’s often ignored that Israel and Saudi Arabia themselves maintain some of the largest ballistic missile arsenals in the region—the latter of which is the subject of this article.
Iran’s ballistic missile program began during the ‘War of the Cities’ phase of the devastating Iran-Iraq war, when Baghdad rained hundreds of Scud missiles on Iranian metropolises. Though Iran managed to acquire a few Scuds from Libya with which to retaliate against Iraqi cities, it mostly could only strike back with air attacks—which placed its steadily diminishing fleet of U.S.-built warplanes at risk.
Saudi Arabia was also growing nervous of Iraq’s evidently huge missile arsenal. Denied access to U.S. ballistic missiles, Riyadh instead went knocking at the door of Beijing—which had previously proven willing to export arms to Iran when Moscow and Washington refused to do so.