Iran fired missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq on Jan. 8, setting off a wave of speculation in the American media. Now that the dust has settled, analyzing the strikes can provide important insights into Iran’s intentions and capabilities—and how the United States should respond.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, many commentators were quickly bogged down by the question of whether the Iranian strikes were meant to be precise.
Many experts cited the (presumed) Iranian strike against Saudi oil infrastructure in September as an example of precision, then concluded that Iran’s attack against the two bases was also a precision strike, carefully calibrated to avoid casualties.
Yet these reports largely overlooked the difference between cruise missiles—which Iran possesses in large numbers—and ballistic missiles, which were actually used in the attack.
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In general, Iranian ballistic missiles simply aren’t that accurate. Those fired at the bases could have landed on parking lots, warehouses, or even outside the facility entirely. Four of the 16 missiles fired failed to even hit their targets.
Cruise missiles, on the other hand, are far more sophisticated. Their advanced guidance technology makes them highly maneuverable, allowing them to evade radar detection and strike targets far more precisely.
Still, this distinction shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the facts of the case.
Yes, Iran fired missiles at U.S. positions. But the Iranians avoided taking more provocative action, such as launching precision strikes. At the end of the day, all parties involved were lucky that no one was hurt or killed.