Iran's early Monday missile attack on Islamic State positions in Syria was actually a threat to the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
Iran says it carried out the attack in response to a 2017 ISIS attack in Tehran. But according to the Iranian government news site Fars, the missiles employed were short-range ballistic missiles of the Qiam and Zolfaqar variants. Launched by the revolutionary guards, or IRGC, from western Iran, the missiles are assessed to have a range of up to 750 kilometers.
But here's where things get interesting. Because Fars also reports that the IRGC labeled its missiles with descriptors including "death to Israel," "death to America," and "death to [the Saudi royal family]."
That rhetoric should serve as a reminder that these missile strikes were a shot across America's bow. For one, it would have been far easier, cheaper, and more effective for Iran to use ground forces in Syria or the Syrian air force to strike ISIS. But when one considers the missiles' 750 kilometer range, Iran's message becomes clear. Just look at the 750 kilometer range map below.
These missiles give Iran obvious range to attack U.S. forces in Qatar and/or the Saudi royal family in Riyadh (although Iran would need to use longer range missiles to strike Israel). While Iran might, on paper, be reluctant to target U.S. forces in Qatar due to their positive relations with Doha, the IRGC would almost certainly do so if it believed such action was the best way of striking the U.S. And it is clear that Iran's short-range missile platforms pose a credible threat to U.S. forces in the region. As we have seen in repeated Iranian missile attacks on Riyadh, the obstacle to Iran's missile competency is not range or capability, but the vulnerability of Iranian missiles to air defense systems.
Moreover, there's no question that the risk of a U.S.-Iranian military exchange is growing. With U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil exports due in early November, the Iranian government is about to lose its primary revenue source. In the context of Iran's existing economic crisis, the looming sanctions have destabilized both the IRGC-aligned hardliner and more-moderate factions in Tehran. That means the potential of Iranian attacks on U.S. interests is steadily increasing.