When it comes to military forces, by far the biggest spender is Saudi Arabia. Last year, Riyadh’s defence budget was more than next five biggest spenders in the region combined (Iraq, Israel, Iran, Algeria, Oman), according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Money is not the only criteria for judging the capabilities of a country’s military forces though. The quality and quantity of weaponry and training are also key elements, as are the number of soldiers, sailors and pilots that can be called on in an emergency. The Global Firepower (GFP) index weighs up more than 50 such factors, including the range of weapons in the arsenal, the amount of available manpower and the abilities of the local defence industry, to come up with its rankings of the most effective fighting forces globally.
Lower scores are best in the GFP index. There is a theoretical perfect score of 0.0000, although the closest any country comes to that is the U.S., which tops the rankings with a score of 0.0857. Within the Middle East, there is a wide range of results, with Mauritania the worst performer by some distance, with a score of 4.2664 which is the fourth worst out of the 130 countries ranked globally. Further up the rankings, but still not high enough to make the cut for the regional top ten despite huge investments in recent years, is Qatar, with a score of 1.8943. Also missing out from the higher echelons is Jordan, whose armed forces have often been thought of as among the most capable in the region. It is ranked at 13 in the MENA region, with a score of 1.2024.
Here though are the countries that do make it into the top ten, in reverse order.
10) United Arab Emirates
Active personnel: 63,000
2017 budget: unknown
With a GFP score of 0.9087, the UAE is ranked well ahead of most of its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. The IISS reckons the country’s forces to be “arguably the best trained and most capable among the GCC states”. They have gained valuable front-line experience in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen in recent years and the country’s special forces impressed many observers with their amphibious assault to capture the Yemeni port city of Aden in July 2015. However, the UAE’s armed forces remain relatively small, with 63,000 active service personnel.
Active personnel: 64,000
2017 budget: $19.3bn
Iraq has the second highest known budget of any country in the region, although this is still a long way behind Saudi Arabia’s spending levels. The country’s armed forces have made significant gains in recent years in battles against Islamic State militants, recapturing the city of Mosul in October 2017 and driving them out of other areas of the country since then. They have been helped in that task by assistance from the US and other Western powers, as well as military advice from Iran’s Al Quds brigade. Questions remain about the long-term shape of Iraq’s armed forces post-conflict, particularly its Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Units (Al Hashd al Shaabi) and the role of Kurdish forces. Under the GFP index, Iraq’s military scores 0.8961.
Active personnel: 195,000
2017 budget: $3.5bn
Morocco has the fifth largest armed forces in the region, with 175,000 army personnel and a further 13,000 in the air force and 7,800 in the navy. However, it also has one of the lowest budgets, at just $3.5bn in 2017. Despite that, it gains a GFP score of 0.8702. The country’s forces have gained useful experience as a result of political instability in its neighbourhood, in particular the disputed territory of Western Sahara to the south, as well as more limited experience further afield, including as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Greater investment in its military forces is expected in the coming years, helped by support from Saudi Arabia.
Active personnel: 142,500
2017 budget: unknown
More than six years of fighting has left Syria’s military machine badly damaged but also battle-hardened. The IISS says the army currently has some 105,000 serving members but is short of personnel, leading to increased efforts at conscription, which many do their best to avoid. Allied militias fighting alongside conventional forces have played an important role in keeping the regime of Bashir al Assad from being toppled. The GFP index gives Syria’s armed forces a score of 0.7603.
Active personnel: 130,000
2017 budget: $10bn
With the best equipped forces in North Africa – much of it sourced from Russia and, to a lesser extent, China – Algeria’s military has a score of 0.4366 in the GFP index. The country has had to battle domestic Islamist extremists for many years and faces troublesome border areas with neighbours including Libya and Mali, not to mention playing a role in supporting the Western Saharan independence movement the Polisario Front.
5) Saudi Arabia
Active personnel: 227,000
2017 budget: $76.7bn
The regional giant, at least in terms of its military budget which easily outpaces any other rival, Saudi Arabia’s GFP score of 0.4302 puts it in fifth place overall in the region. The huge amount of money being spent by Riyadh each year means the country has the best equipped armed forces in the region with the exception of Israel. Its involvement in the Yemen civil war over the past three years has given its forces valuable frontline experience, but its failure to defeat its Houthi opponents there has also raised questions about how effective a fighting force the Saudi military really is.
Active personnel: 523,000
2017 budget: $16bn
Iran has more men under arms than any other country in the region, with 350,000 in the army, 18,000 in the navy, 30,000 serving in the air force and a further 125,000 in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Years of international sanctions have meant it has been unable to source many weapons systems from abroad, forcing it to improvise and develop a substantial home-grown defence industry. Its armed forces are also seen as particular strong in asymmetric warfare. Iranian forces, particularly the elite Al Quds unit of the IRGC, have played a key role in the fighting in both Syria and Iraq and Tehran has also provided support to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran’s GFP score of 0.3933 puts it ahead of any of its immediate neighbours.
Active personnel: 176,500
2017 budget: $18.5bn
With numerous hostile neighbours to contend with, Israel has always felt the need to ensure its armed forces are clearly superior to anything they might have to face in battle. The Israel Defence Forces are the best equipped, best trained and most capable of any in the region according to the IISS, not least because of continued massive support from the US. However, the country’s GFP index score of 0.3476 still places it behind two others in the region.
Active personnel: 438,500
2017 budget: $2.7bn
With a former general now in charge of the country – Abdel el Sisi – it is unsurprising that Egypt’s army is in a powerful position in the domestic political arena. The defence forces are currently in the midst of an equipment recapitalisation programme, with new fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and surface-to-air missiles all being bought in. However, the country has struggled to deal with the challenge posed by insurgent, terrorist groups in the northern Sinai Peninsula for the past few years. With a GFP score of 0.2676, Egypt is seen as having the second strongest armed forces in the region and the tenth strongest in the world overall, ahead of the likes of Italy and Pakistan.
Active personnel: 355,800
2017 budget: $8bn
Viewed by the GFP as the most powerful in the MENA region with a score of 0.2491, Turkey’s armed forces have faced a turbulent few years, with many officers purged from the services following a failed coup in July 2016. Since then the country has become ever more heavily involved in the war in neighbouring Syria, culminating in the Afrin campaign launched in January 2018. The country also has important overseas military ties with Qatar and Somalia, basing troops in both countries. Not only is it seen as the strongest military force in the MENA region, it is ranked in eighth place globally, just ahead of Germany and one place below Japan.
Source – Forbes