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Iranian Navy - History

Sir John Malcolm, a distinguished British soldier and diplomatist who showed great zeal in the study the manners and languages of the east, undertook diplomatic missions to Persia in 1799, 1808 and 1810. As an author, the name of Sir John Malcolm occupied no mean place in the annals of British literature. John Malcolm wrote in his 1815 The History of Persia from the Early Period to the Present Time of the Arabians, who

" ... entirely occupied the level country between the mountains and the shore of the Persian Gulf. This tract, which resembles .... the peninsula of Arabia more than any of the interior provinces of Persia, had been long abandoned to this race, who had, from the most early ages, possessed a superiority over the Persians at sea. The latter indeed seem, at all periods of their history, to have at once dreaded and abhorred that element. The Arabs had consequently not only possessed themselves of the Islands of the Gulf, but of almost all the harbours along the coast. Their children had maintained these possessions, yielding at times a real, and at others a nominal, obedience to the government of Persia: but their poverty, the heat of the climate, and the barrenness of the soil of the countries they inhabited, combined with the facility with which those tribes who dwelt near the coast could embark in their boats, have at all periods aided the efforts made by this race to maintain themselves in a state of rude independence."

Iran's naval forces, like the country itself, have been shaped by the Islamic revolution, petroleum, and an often adversarial relationship with neighboring countries and the international community as a whole. These factors have influenced how Iran's naval forces are organized, how they are equipped and manned, and how they interact with external forces.

Iran has two naval forces: the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN. The IRIN is the naval branch of Iran's Artesh, the traditional military force that existed prior to the 1979 revolution. This force was the former Shah's Imperial Iranian Navy and was originally designed to be a blue-water force capable of demonstrating the power and prestige of the Shah's Iran. Today, it consists mainly of older, mid-sized naval combatants, such as corvettes and missile-equipped patrol craft purchased by the Shah from western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The IRIN has not fully escaped the stigma of its pre-revolution loyalties and remains secondary in most respects to the IRGCN.

The IRGCN emerged after the Islamic revolution during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The revolutionary forces not only distrusted the former Shah's military, they greatly weakened it by executing many senior commanders and conducting purges to rid it of any loyalists to the Shah. This allowed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-the Ayatollah Khomeini's base of revolutionaries turned paramilitary internal security force-to take on a larger role in the country's defense. In addition to the original ground forces element, the IRGC also formalized an emerging naval component in the mid-1980s, following successful amphibious operations in the southern marshlands of Iraq. Over the intervening decades, the IRGCN has been politically favored over the IRIN and has capitalized on this status to acquire advanced weaponry and better platforms to develop additional capabilities.

Soon after the revolution the Iranian naval forces experienced their most active period. During the Iran-Iraq War, both belligerents staged attacks against merchant shipping in the Persian Gulf. By one estimate, 546 commercial vessels were damaged, most of which were Kuwaiti vessels attacked by Iran. Iranian naval forces executed hit-and-run attacks with small boats, fired naval guns from IRIN warships, boarded commercial vessels in search of material destined to support Iraq's war efforts, and attacked merchants using coastal defense cruise missiles.

Iran's use of naval mines during the war was, however, the most notable aspect of the maritime front of the war. During the very first escort mission of re-flagged tankers by U.S. Navy ships in July 1987, the Kuwaiti super tanker AL REKKAH, re-flagged as the United States super tanker BRIDGETON, struck a mine. Two months later, the United States caught the IRIN's IRAN AJR-class landing ship IRAN AJR laying mines off the coast of Bahrain. Then in April 1988, USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS hit an Iranian mine, initiating the retaliatory Operation PRAYING MANTIS by U.S. forces. This list is not all-inclusive, and many other incidents of Iranian mine strikes occurred throughout the course of the war.

Today, Iran's naval forces protect Iranian waters and natural resources, especially Iran's petroleum-related assets and industries. Iranian maritime security operations guard against the smuggling of illegal goods (especially drugs) and immigrants, and protect against the poaching and stealing offish in territorial waters. Additionally, Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging. Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats.




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