Middle Eastern Region and North Africa are home to some of the least stable countries in the world. Institute of Economics and Peace ranks the continental lands of Asia and Africa among most violent regions of the World in its Global Peace Index. Fighting with the unrest and non-ending turmoil, the countries, not a surprise to many, including Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Libya are a host to insurgents and sporadic chaos of its kind in modern times. The Palestine-Israel crisis and Saudi-Iran conflict add fuel to the fire.
Middle East today has become a battleground for regional and western powers and their proxies, all having their own individual vested stakes in the area. For Example, The Yemen conflict involving KSA, UAE and President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi at one side and Houthi and other Rebel and terrorist groups and other sides paint a perfect picture of the intermittent violence. The Saudi Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates back the government of the overthrown, exiled and Asylum-seeking Hadi while Iran furnishes Houthis with financial and military support to get leverage and maintain its strategic depth against Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region.
Not much different is the case of Syria where Iran, Turkey, Russia, United States and Israel (not much but to the effect) are taking sides as the freedom fighter for one is a terrorist for the other. Iran and Russia are the backers of the long-reigning Bashar al-Assad while Turkey, US and Israel lend support to Kurds, Free Syrian Army and other groups operating in the country. Similarly, in Libya, Kuwait, UAE and Egypt support the Khalifa/General Haftar’s LNA-led campaign in the Libyan Civil War against GNA: Government National Accord having Turkey as its key backer.
The adventurism and strategic goals are forcing the regional governments to invest heavily in the defense purchasing of the countries party to the conflict at different levels. The defensive and offensive abilities of Russia and the United States are well known to the world and don’t need any mention. As for Iran, hit with the tough western sanctions, working on the principle of self-reliance has developed its own indigenous defense industry and is known globally as among the top Missile powers with sufficient naval power guarding its shores. The addition of precision and accuracy into its guided cruise and ballistic missile prowess and the introduction of UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (recently used to the maximum effect in Aramco attacks) are a testament to its military might in the Middle East well ahead of others.
Counties especially those involved in the asymmetric wars in the Gulf are particularly concerned over the growing military and regional superiority of Iran and are expending heavily to bolster their defenses. The Riyadh Administration in the year 2017 was the biggest spender in defense in the region having a budget more than that of the next five biggest Spenders in the Middle East including Iraq, Israel, Iran, Algeria and Oman as per the figures of International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
However, money no doubts matters but is not a criterion or at least the only one to gauge a country’s military strength. The quality, quantity, sophistication, age, and ability to use the weapon systems are the other crucial elements along with a number of soldiers, marines and pilots (both active and reserve members). The Global Firepower Index counts more than 50 such factors that involve range and scope of the arsenal possessed, manpower, indigenous defense industries and more to evaluate the formidability and sharpness of conventional military power.
2020 Military Strength Ranking in the Middle East
Lower scores are the best in the Global Fire Index. The perfect score (theoretical) is 0.0000 and the closest any nation has come to is the United States with 0.0857. Mauritania has the worst rate in the Middle East with a score of 4.2664, the fourth-worst in the 130 countries in global rankings. Qatar holds a decent score of 1.8943, still not enough to fall in the top 10 in the Middle East. Jordan well known for its combative ground troops also misses the echelons of the power with a score of 1.2024. Here is the list of the 10 Strongest Military Forces in the Middle East:
Note: GFP does not take into account the number of weapons, nukes and First/Second/Third World Statuses.
10. United Arab Emirates.
- Active Personnel: 63,000
- Recent Budget: Unknown
- PwrIndx: 0.8555
GFP score of 0.8555 as per 2017 stats. UAE enjoys a good ranking among Gulf Cooperation Council countries. As per IISS as one of the best trained and equipped in the region. With valuable frontline experience in Afghanistan, Libya and most recently in Yemen, the forces have impressed many with their amphibious combat strength in capturing crucial strategic port of Aden in July 2015. Having relatively such a small force of 63,000 staffers is a big drawback to get a ranking of 10.
- Active Personnel: 195,000
- 2017 Budget: $3.5 billion
- PwrIndx: 0.8244
Morocco from North Africa makes the 5th largest force in the region. Holding 175,000 in ground troops, 13000 airmen, and 7,800 sailors, Morocco holds handsome ranks in Africa. However, the defense spending per annum is not quite up to the mark ($3.5 billion in 2017) partly due to stable internal and external security. Recent expeditions in the neighborhood in Western Sahara and in Yemen with Saudi-led coalition have given the force some good combating experience. With Saudi-aid the country is expected to boost its military expenditure in the coming years.
- Active Personnel: 64,000
- 2017 Budget: $19.3 billion
- PwrIndx: 0.7813
Iraq fighting with the Islamic State had the second highest budget than any other national in the region after Saudi Kingdom. The Armed forces along Iran-backed local Shia militias have earned some significant gains against the brutal Islamic State militancy as they recaptured the city of Mosul in Oct 2017 to reinstate the writ of state there. GFP ranks Iraq’s military 8th most powerful with the score of 0.7813. The future of the country and the army role however, still remains uncertain with the sporadic growth of Shia (PMU/Al Hashd al Shaabi) and Kurd Militias.
- Active Personnel: 142,500
- 2017 Budget: Unknown
- PwrIndx: 0.7644
Having six years of the rough battle within its boundaries, Syrian military after bearing the brunt of the civil war has got a good whip now. The battle-hardened army according IISS has 105,000 active personnel however is not able to do much when attempting to draft for the force. The Russian and Iranian support alongside allied regional militias, Syria has able to demonstrate its notable successes in deterring and debunking the ISIS. GFP score of country ruled by Bashar Al-Assad is 0.7644.
- Active Personnel: 130,000
- 2017 Budget: $10 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.4551
Algeria is among the best equipped fire-powers in Northern Africa. It depends for the supply and equipment on Russia and China. GFP Index gives it a score of 0.4551 Battles against domestic extremism and threats from the neighboring Mali and Libya have played a role in the growth and strength of the Algerian forces. Support for Western Saharan Independence movement and Polisario Front were also vital in the strengthening of the Army.
5. Saudi Arabia
- Active Personnel: 227,000
- 2017 Budget: $76.7 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.4286
Kingdom Saudi Arabia poses as a religious giant with it big military budget to outwork its rivals in the region. With 0.4286, it ranks 5th of the GFP charts. The recent lavish spending on the weaponry clears any doubts about the preparedness of the royals to fight the Yemen Civil War which is over 4 years now. KSA has purchased some of the world’s sophisticated arms from United States, England, France and others. The questions however, still loom on the effectiveness of the military against the stubborn Houthi trap at the next-door.
- Active Personnel: 176,500
- 2017 Budget: $18.5 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.2964
Always facing the visible and invisible threat from the neighboring nations, Israel has always invested huge to get superiority in arms race in the region. IDF: Israel Defence Forces are the best in the region in terms of capabilities, training and equipment. The massive support it gets from US in another factor to make it superior of the many in the Middle East. The Global Fire Power score of 0.2964 is still not enough to get the best rating in the Gulf.
- Active Personnel: 523,000
- 2017 Budget: $16 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.2606
Islamic Republic of Iran has the biggest ground troop strength in the region with 350,000 on ground, 30,000 in Air force and 18,000 Naval force. The number is further strengthened by 125,000 IRGC members operating in and outside the country. The never-ending sanctions have barred Iran from the procurement of up-to-date weaponry but have at the same time motivated them to build their own. The home grown conventional arms and Missile power is helping the Iranians to pursue their national interests in the region through asymmetric warfare, a consistent cause of pain for Saudis, Israel, US and other allied nations on the opposite side. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp’s foreign arm Al Quds Force has greatly helped Iranians to take on rebels and terrorists for the allies in Syria and Iraq. Tehran has also lend a great helping hand to Houthis to resist Saudi-led intervention in the region.
- Active Personnel: 438,500
- 2017 Budget: 2.7 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.2283
Emerging from the Martial Law, the Abdel el Sisi government in Egypt is unsurprisingly recording some gains in the military might as is the case with domestic stability and powerful position of the Generals in the domestic political arena. The country is currently in the process of acquisition of the equipment including fighter and multi-role jets, helicopter, tanks and missiles to augment its Firepower. Though the country for the past couple of years has to deal on the domestic fronts including mainland insurgency and terrorist attacks from northern Sinai Peninsula. Egypt with a surprise to many has #12 rank in the overall ranking in the world making it ahead of Pakistan and Italy in the race.
- Active Personnel: 355,800
- 2017 Budget: $8 Billion
- PwrIndx: 0.2089
Turkey is ranked most powerful in Middle East and North Africa with a score of 0.2089 in Global Firepower Index. The failed coup attempt in Jul 2016 and some turbulent years in the aftermath could have been the only reason for a compromised rank but the national has stayed strong in the wake of any internal or external effort against its sovereignty. After the thwarting of coup d’état, Erdogan (Turkey’s Premier) has launched a strong military campaign on it external fronts to deter radical Islamists and persistent Kurdish insurgency particularly in the bordering area of Afrin most recently in Jan 2018. Turkey also holds military bases in Qatar and Somalia. The globally known Turk force is rated 9th globally by GFP ahead of Germany and closing in on UK, South Korea and Japan.