In this article, we list and discuss the 14 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East. If you would like to skip our detailed discussion of the use of drones in modern-day warfare in the Middle East, you can go directly to the top 5 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East.

The Middle East, a region encompassing the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan), Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq, is for the most part, a troubled region with a long-standing history of political, civil, and geopolitical unrest and conflicts.

Whether it be the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982 or the invasion of Iraq by NATO, comprising some of strongest militaries in the world, wars, and conflicts have destabilized many countries in the region and given birth to politically-led militia groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The existence and influence of militant groups and armed forces in Middle East countries, particularly in Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Syria are a serious threat to the sovereignty of the countries in the region. At the same time, the Middle East is also home to some of the most powerful militaries in the world, which makes many of these conflicts more ravaging than most. (See also: 24 Most Powerful Militaries in the World in 2024 and 25 Countries with the Strongest Armies in the World)

On the 1st of April 2024, an Israeli airstrike targeted an Iranian diplomatic base in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The airstrike killed seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the General of the Quds Force. In retaliation, Iran attacked Israel twelve days later, on the 13th of April, launching around 170 drones, 120 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles in a span of five hours. While the Israeli missile defense system reportedly intercepted the attack with “99% effectiveness” with the help of the US and other allies, Iran’s low-cost high-precision suicide drones made headlines.

The 11-foot-long drone used by Iran, named Shahed-136, has a lightweight frame and carries over a hundred built-in explosives. It reaches the target using a satellite system, crashes and explodes upon contact. First introduced at an exhibition in Iran in 2014, the Shahed-136 was initially referred to as “a poor man’s cruise missile” because of how cheap and simple it was. But both these factors mean that the Shahed-136, a low-cost munition, can be produced in high quantities and can be quite effective if used strategically.

According to an Iranian analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Berlin, the size, range, warhead weight, and engine are factors that set the Shahed-136 drone apart. In fact, owing to these factors, we are now seeing this new generation of suicide drones transform the face and economies of warfare. One unit of the Shahed-136 only costs around $50,000, and Russia has also reportedly been using this drone against Ukraine since October 2022.

Aside from Russia and Iran, because of how cheap of a bargain suicide drones are for the military economies, many countries, especially on the Middle East map, are already manufacturing and using them. The Syrian government forces had been using FPV (first-person-view) suicide drones to target military bases of opposition and also some civilian areas along the front lines. The White Helmets, previously known as the Syrian Civil Defense system, said that there were 13 suicide drone attacks from the first of January 2024 to 22 February.

Modern-day warfare and the increasing use of suicide drones in the Middle East and Europe are making loitering munition a centerpiece of global conflicts and allowing many players to enter and expand the market. Some existing key players in the drone and loitering munition market include AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV), Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), and RTX Corp (NYSE:RTX).

AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV), one of the leading global defense contractors based in the United States, introduced its loitering munition drone in 2011. It was called the Switchblade and was later rebranded as the Switchblade 300. On 24 March 2023, AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV) was awarded a $64.6 million firm-fixed-price contract by the U.S. Army Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) for the Switchblade 300 loitering missile systems. In total, the company has received a total funding of around $231.3 million for the Switchblade loitering systems under the original US Army contract.

Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), meanwhile, is a leading American company in aerospace, arms, and defense technology. Lockheed Martin has been making unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) for over a decade now. However, after the trend of increased use of loitering munition in combats, the company decided to make an efficient Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System. Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) released MORFIUS, which is a reusable, multi-engagement, loitering inceptor that uses microwave energy to zap down a swarm of drones.

On the other hand, RTX Corp (NYSE:RTX), previously known as Raytheon Technologies Corporation, introduced its low-cost C-UAS Coyote Block 2 at the World Defense Show 2024 in Saudi Arabia. Coyote Block 2 is capable of taking down a range of UAS, including small and large drones as well as those at higher altitudes. Moreover, according to RTX Corp (NYSE:RTX), Coyote Block 2 can take down single as well as swarm of drones with improved accuracy.

14 Strongest Military Forces in the Middle East

15 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East

Our Methodology

For our ranking of Middle Eastern countries by strongest military forces, we have considered several weighted metrics. These include manpower (10%), tanks (10%), aircraft fleet strength (5%), submarines (5%), military satellites in orbit (5%), overseas military bases (5%), nuclear weapons (10%), GDP (25%), defense spending (20%), cybersecurity capabilities (2.5%), and technological capabilities (2.5%).

To obtain these metrics, we used the same methodology as used in our recent articles. Namely, 15 Countries with the Most Battle Tanks in the World, 15 Navies with the Most Submarines in the World, 13 Countries With The Most Overseas Military Bases, 25 Largest Economies in the World in 2024, and 20 Countries With Highest Military Spending In The World. For the number of satellites in orbit, we consulted the UCS satellite database.

It must be noted that the GDP and defense spending figures are for 2023, but in some cases, we faced the issue of data unavailability, and we resorted to the most recent available data. In particular, we used 2022 GDP figures for Lebanon, 2014 figures for UAE and Yemen’s defense spending, and 2022 data for Qatar’s defense spending. We did not include Syria and Palestine in our calculations due to the complete unavailability of data. Lastly, the Global Innovation Index 2023 was used to determine the technological capabilities of countries, while the NCSI Rankings were used to determine the cybersecurity capabilities.

We obtained data for each metric, normalized it, ranked countries for each metric and then calculated a weighted average for each country’s rankings on these metrics according to the assigned metrics weights. This was done for all countries considered in our research. Finally, we sorted and arranged our data for the list of strongest military forces in the Middle East in descending order of their overall weighted rankings.

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14 Strongest Military Forces In The Middle East

14. Yemen

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $16,940,000,000

Defense Spending: $1,714,800,000 (2014)

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 55

Manpower: 66,700

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 177

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: N/A

Bordering the Arabian and the Red Sea, Yemen has a land area of about 527,968 sq. km. Yemen has a long history of military conflicts and is also one of the poorest countries in the world. Recently, Yemen has made headlines for launching attacks on Israeli and US Ships crossing the Red Sea in a stated attempt to push Israel to stop its war on Gaza.

13. Lebanon

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $21,780,000,000

Defense Spending: $241,300,000 (2022)

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 204

Manpower: 60,000

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 81

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: 23.2

Located between Israel and Syria on the Middle East map, Lebanon has a land area of about 10,400 sq km. The Lebanese military, also known as the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), comprises the Army Command (including the Presidential Guard Brigade, and Land Border Regiments), Naval Forces, and Air Forces. According to the CIA World Factbook’s 2021 reports, the expenditure of Lebanon’s military was approximately 3.2% of the total state GDP.

12. Bahrain

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $46,790,000,000

Defense Spending: $1,383,800,000

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 180

Manpower: 18,400

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 120

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: 29.1

An archipelago in the Persian Gulf and located close to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain has one of the best military forces in the Middle East. Bahrain is a key ally of the United States. Bahrain has a population of 839,098 people, out of which, 18,400 are military personnel.

11. Oman

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $108,930,000,000

Defense Spending: $5,851,800,000

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 154

Manpower: 42,600

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 128

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: 50

Technological Advancement Score: 28.4

On the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is the 11th strongest military in the Middle East. Although the country has not been active in war in nearly a decade, it has a rich history of taking part in war or fighting rebels. In 1962, there was a more than decade-long rebellion uprising in the Dhofar province, which was finally defeated in the Dhofar War in 1976. Since then, Oman has been one stable sultanate with a strong economy and a strong military.

10. Qatar

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $244,690,000,000

Defense Spending: $15,412,100,000 (2022)

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 99

Manpower: 66,550

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 228

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 1

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: 33.4

Qatar is one of the strongest Arab countries, bordering Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. In the current ongoing war of Israel on Gaza, Qatar has assumed a mediatory role. Qatar has an active manpower of 66,550, while 19.2% of the total population (486,164 people), is enrolled in the army and fit for service.

9. Jordan

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $53,570,000,000

Defense Spending: $2,450,200,000

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 1365

Manpower: 100,500

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 265

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: 52.5

Technological Advancement Score: 28.2

Located between Israel and Iraq, Jordan has a small coastline of 26 km, which makes it dependent on its neighboring countries for marine exports and imports. Ranked among the top 10 strongest military forces in the Middle East, Jordan the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF), also known as the Royal Jordanian Army, received 4.8% of the total GDP in 2022 as the military expenditure. Over the years, Jordan has been actively involved in various armed conflicts.

8. Iraq

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $265,890,000,000

Defense Spending: $5,108,400,000

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 848

Manpower: 193,000

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 371

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: 10

Technological Advancement Score: N/A

Ranked 8th, Iraq is located between Iran and Kuwait and has previously been heavily involved in numerous conflicts, including the conflict with the United States, and prior to that, with Iran. Around 34% of the total population of the country is fit-for-service, with 193,000 being active personnel. As of 2023, according to SIPRI data, Iraq’s military spending was around 1.7% of its total GDP.

7. Kuwait

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $160,400,000,000

Defense Spending: $7,755,000,000

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 367

Manpower: 720,000

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 114

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 0

Overseas Military Bases: 0

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: 29.9

Seventh on the list, located between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is surrounded by some of the most powerful nations of the Middle East. Although the country has no military satellites, submarines, or overseas bases, the Kuwait military ranks well among the top 15 strongest military forces in the Middle East because of how well-equipped, efficient, and effective the Kuwait Armed Forces are. Overall, Kuwait has the highest number of active military manpower than any other country in the Middle East. Also, the country is economically and politically stable and has a strategic importance in the region, which adds to the strength of the military as well.

6. United Arab Emirates

GDP (Constant 2022 USD): $527,800,000,000

Defense Spending: $22,755,100,000 (2014)

Nuclear Weapons: 0

Tanks: 354

Manpower: 65000

Aircraft Fleet Strength: 560

Submarines: 0

Military Satellites in Orbit: 3

Overseas Military Bases: 3

Cybersecurity Score: N/A

Technological Advancement Score: 43.2

The United Arab Emirates, known across the world for its tourist attractions, skyscrapers, biodiversity, and thriving business environment is also one of the strongest Arab militaries in the world as of 2024. According to the CIA’s 2022 estimates, the military expenditure of the UAE is about 4% of its total GDP. According to SIPRI data, this number rose to 4.3% in 2023. Also, the UAE does not officially have any submarines yet. However, according to recent developments, the country has built its first-ever submarine, with the help of engineers from the UAE and the UK. The submarine, named Kronos, is currently being tested and can eventually be used as an active war component, which will further strengthen the country’s military.

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Disclosure: None. 14 Strongest Military Forces in the Middle East is originally published on Insider Monkey.