Who Has the Mideast's Strongest Military?

Business Insider's ranking of the region's strongest armies shows money isn't everything when it comes to military might.

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IDF tank fires at Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
IDF tank fires at Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East, followed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, a new ranking released by Business Insider revealed on Monday.

In addition to being battle-tested against a variety of enemies, the Israel Defense Forces has a qualitative edge over all other militaries in the region, as well as a highly-capable air force, the report said.

"Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world," an expert who consulted Business Insider on the rankings said.

The rankings were based on a "holistic assessment" of the region's militaries' operational capabilities and hardware, Business Insider said. These assessments were based on the media outlet's own research, and on interviews with two experts: Patrick Megahan, from the Foundation of Defense of Democracies' Military Edge project, and Chris Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

Among the reasons for Israel's ranking, Business Insider listed the IDF's proven track record in successfully fighting both conventional armies, like Syria and Egypt in 1967 and 1973, and the Palestinian militant groups.

The report also said Israel has a qualitative edge over the region, thanks to a close defense relationship with the U.S. and its own defense industry. This edge includes space assets, advanced fighter jets, drones, and nuclear weapons, according to Business Insider. The IDF's small size also plays in its favor, according to the report, as it can mobilize its reserves quickly on a relatively short notice.

Contrary to other armies in the region, like Turkey's, Syria's, and, most recently, Egypt's, the Israeli military has never attempted a coup, said the report.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both having larger militaries and heftier defense budgets than Israel ($15 billion), were ranked second and third.

Turkey, with $18.1 billion in its defense budget, was noted positively for its attempt to modernize its military, and much of its advanced defense technology is produced locally.

Saudi Arabia, with $56.7 billion, is the world's fourth largest military spender after the U.S., China and Russia. According to Business Insider, its arsenal is second only to Israel, and even that might change. According to Megahan, the Saudi air force may soon be even more updated than Israel's.

After Saudi Arabia, Business Insider listed the United Arab Emirates, "the Middle East's rising military power," and Iran, noted for its above-par indigenous military industry, but downgraded for preferring loyalty to the regime over merit in its office corps.

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