The most important aspect of Iran’s actions was the way its missiles were targeted. For years now, Iran has made significant strides in terms of the reliability, range and accuracy of its ballistic missile force. Gone are the days when Iran arsenal consisted solely of inaccurate Soviet-era SCUD missiles.
The missile attack on the US incorporated new, advanced missiles—the Qaim 1 and Fahad-110—possessing advanced guidance and control capable of pinpoint precision. Iran had used these weapons previously, striking targets inside Syria affiliated with the Islamic State. But this was the first time these weapons had been used against the US. From the US perspective, the results were sobering. The Iranian missile attacks resulted in no casualties among US, Iraqi or coalition forces stationed in either Al Asad or Erbil. But the lack of lethality, however, is actually Tehran’s way of proving the accuracy of its ballistic missiles.
Commercial satellite images of the Al Asad air base taken after the attack show that the Iranian missiles struck buildings containing equipment with a precision previously only thought possible by advanced powers such as the US, NATO, Russia and China. Iran fired 17 missiles at Al Asad, and 15 hit their targets (two missiles failed to detonate).
Iran also fired five additional missiles at the US consulate in Erbil; US commanders on the ground said that it appeared Iran deliberately avoided striking the consulate, but in doing so sent a clear signal that had it wanted, the consulate would have been destroyed.
Trump had previously promised a massive retaliation should Iran attack any US personnel or facilities. Surrounded by his national security team, Trump had to back down from that threat, knowing full well that if he were to attack Iran, the Iranian response would be devastating for both the US and its regional allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The US might be able to inflict unimaginable devastation on Iran, but the cost paid would be unacceptably high.