Military history of Iran
With thousands of years of recorded history, and due to an unchanging geographic (and subsequently geopolitical) condition, Iran (previously known as Persia in the West until 1935) has had a long, varied, and checkered military culture and history, ranging from triumphant and unchallenged ancient military supremacy affording effective superpower status in its day, to a series of near catastrophic defeats (beginning with the destruction of Elam) at the hand of previously subdued and conquered peripheral nations (including Greece, Macedon, Arabia, and the Asiatic nomadic tribes at the Eastern boundary of the lands traditionally home to the Iranian people).
- 1 Elam
- 2 Medes
- 3 Achaemenid Era
- 4 Seleucid Empire (330 to 150 BCE)
- 5 Parthian Empire (250 BCE– 226 CE)
- 6 Sassanid Era (224 CE to 651 CE)
- 7 Islamic conquest (637 to 651)
- 8 Tahirid dynasty (821 to 873)
- 9 Alavid dynasty (864 to 928)
- 10 Saffarid dynasty (861 to 1003)
- 11 Samanid dynasty (819 to 999)
- 12 Ziyarid dynasty (930 to 1090)
- 13 Buwayhid dynasty (934 to 1062)
- 14 Ghaznavid Empire (977 to 1186)
- 15 Seljuq Empire (1037 to 1187)
- 16 Khwarezmian Empire (1077 to 1231)
- 17 Ilkhanate (1256 to 1353)
- 18 Muzaffarid dynasty (1314 to 1393)
- 19 Chupanid dynasty (1337 to 1357)
- 20 Jalayerid dynasty (1339 to 1432)
- 21 Timurid Empire (1370 to 1506)
- 22 Qara Qoyunlu Turcomens (1407 to 1468)
- 23 Aq Qoyunlu Turcomans (1378 to 1508)
- 24 Safavid Era (1501 to 1736)
- 25 Afsharid Dynasty (1750 to 1794)
- 26 Zand Dynasty (1750-1794)
- 27 Qajar Era (1794 to 1925)
- 28 Pahlavi Era (1925 to 1979)
- 29 Islamic Republic of Iran (1979 to Present)
- 30 See also
- 31 References
- 32 Further reading
The Achaemenid Empire (559 BC–330 BC) was the first of the Persian Empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran. The empire possessed a “national army” of roughly 120.000-150.000 troops, plus several tens of thousands of troops from their allies.
The Persian army was divided into regiments of a thousand each, called hazarabam. Ten hazarabams formed a haivarabam, or division. The best known haivarabam were the Immortals, the King's personal guard division. The smallest unit was the ten man dathaba. Ten dathabas formed the hundred man sataba.
The royal army used a system of color uniforms to identify different units. A large variety of colors were used, some of the most common being yellow, purple, and blue. But this system was probably limited to native Persian troops and was not used for their numerous allies.
The usual tactic employed by the Persians in the early period of the empire, was to form a shield wall that archers could fire over. These troops (called sparabara, or shield-bearers) were equipped with a large rectangular wicker shield called a spara, and armed with a short spear, measuring around six feet long.
The bow was the most widely used weapon of the Persians. The role of the sparabara was to soften the enemy with volleys of arrows. The main shock action was done by the cavalry. The heavily equipped Persian foot soldiers were not ideal for shock attacks.
Seleucid Empire (330 to 150 BCE)
Parthian Empire (250 BCE– 226 CE)
Parthia was an Iranian civilization situated in the northeastern part of modern Iran, but at the height of its power, the Parthian dynasty covered all of Iran proper, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Georgia, eastern Turkey, eastern Syria, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, the Persian Gulf, the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and the UAE.
The Parthian empire was led by the Arsacid dynasty, led by the Parni, a confederation of Scythians which reunited and ruled over the Iranian plateau, after defeating and disposing the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, beginning in the late 3rd century BC, and intermittently controlled Mesopotamia between 150 BC and 224 AD. It was the third native dynasty of ancient Iran (after the Median and the Achaemenid dynasties). Parthia was the arch-enemy of the Roman Empire for nearly three centuries.
After the Scythian-Parni nomads had settled in Parthia and built a small independent kingdom, they rose to power under king Mithridates the Great (171-138 BC). Later, at the height of their power, Parthian influence reached as far as Ubar in Arabia, the nexus of the frankincense trade route, where Parthian-inspired ceramics have been found. The power of the early Parthian empire seems to have been overestimated by some ancient historians, who could not clearly separate the powerful later empire from its more humble obscure origins. The end of this long-lived empire came in 224 AD, when the empire was loosely organized and the last king was defeated by one of the empire's vassals, the Persians of the Sassanid dynasty.
Sassanid Era (224 CE to 651 CE)
The birth of the Sassanid army dates back to the rise of Ardashir I (r. 226–241), the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, to the throne. Ardashir aimed at the revival of the Persian Empire, and to further this aim, he reformed the military by forming a standing army which was under his personal command and whose officers were separate from satraps, local princes and nobility. He restored the Achaemenid military organizations, retained the Parthian cavalry model, and employed new types of armour and siege warfare techniques. This was the beginning for a military system which served him and his successors for over 400 years, during which the Sassanid Empire was, along with the Roman Empire and later the East Roman Empire, one of the two superpowers of Late Antiquity in Western Eurasia. The Sassanid army protected Eranshahr ("the realm of Iran") from the East against the incursions of central Asiatic nomads like the Hephthalites, Turks, while in the west it was engaged in a recurrent struggle against its rival, the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire, setting on forth the conflict that had started since the time of their predecessors, the Parthians, and would end after around 720 years, making it the longest conflict in human history.
Islamic conquest (637 to 651)
The Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) led to the end of the Sassanid Empire and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. However, the achievements of the previous Persian civilizations were not lost, but were to a great extent absorbed by the new Islamic polity.
Most Muslim historians have long offered the idea that Persia, on the verge of the Arab invasion, was a society in decline and decay and thus it embraced the invading Arab armies with open arms. This view is not widely accepted however. Some authors have for example used mostly Arab sources to illustrate that "contrary to the claims, Iranians in fact fought long and hard against the invading Arabs." This view further more holds that once politically conquered, the Persians began engaging in a culture war of resistance and succeeded in forcing their own ways on the victorious Arabs.
Tahirid dynasty (821 to 873)
The Tahirid dynasty ruled the northeastern Persian Empire region of Khorasan (parts that are presently in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). The Tahirid capital was Nishapur.
Although nominally subject to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Tahirid rulers were effectively independent. The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn, a leading general in the service of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun. Tahir's military victories were rewarded with the gift of lands in the east of Persia, which were subsequently extended by his successors as far as the borders of India.
The Tahirid dynasty is considered to be the first independent dynasty from the Abbasid caliphate established in Khorasan. They were overthrown by the Saffarid dynasty, who annexed Khorasan to their own empire in eastern Persia.
Alavid dynasty (864 to 928)
The Alavids or Alavians were a Shia emirate based in Mazandaran of Iran. They were descendants of the second Shi'a Imam (Imam Hasan ibn Ali) and brought Islam to the south Caspian Sea region of Iran. Their reign was ended when they were defeated by the Samanid empire in 928 AD. After their defeat some of the soldiers and generals of the Alavids joined the Samanid dynasty. Mardavij the son of Ziar was one of the generals that joined the Samanids. He later founded the Ziyarid dynasty. Ali, Hassan and Ahmad the sons of Buye [bu:je] (that were founders of the Buyid or Buwayhid dynasty) were also among generals of the Alavid dynasty who joined the Samanid army.
Saffarid dynasty (861 to 1003)
The Saffarid capital was Zaranj (now in Afghanistan). The dynasty was founded by – and took its name from – Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, a man of humble origins who rose from an obscure beginning as a coppersmith (saffar) to became a warlord. He seized control of the Seistan region, conquering all of Afghanistan, modern-day eastern Iran, and parts of Pakistan. Using their capital (Zaranj) as base for an aggressive expansion eastwards and westwards, they overthrew the Tahirid dynasty and annexed Khorasan in 873. By the time of Ya'qub's death, he had conquered Kabul Valley, Sindh, Tocharistan, Makran (Baluchistan), Kerman, Fars, Khorasan, and nearly reaching Baghdad but then suffered defeat.
|History of Greater Iran
Until the rise of modern nation-states
The Saffarid empire did not last long after Ya'qub's death. His brother and successor Amr bin Laith was defeated in a battle with the Samanids in 900. Amr bin Laith was forced to surrender most of their territories to the new rulers. The Saffarids were subsequently confined to their heartland of Sistan, with their role reduced to that of vassals of the Samanids and their successors.
Samanid dynasty (819 to 999)
The Samanids (819–999) were a Persian dynasty in Central Asia and Greater Khorasan, named after its founder Saman Khuda who converted to Sunni Islam despite being from Zoroastrian theocratic nobility. It was among the first native Iranian dynasties in Greater Iran and Central Asia after the Arab conquest and the collapse of the Sassanid Persian empire.
Ziyarid dynasty (930 to 1090)
The Ziyarids, also spelled Zeyarids (زیاریان or آل زیار), were an Iranian dynasty that ruled in the Caspian sea provinces of Gorgan and Mazandaran from 930-1090 (also known as Tabaristan). The founder of the dynasty was Mardavij (from 930 to 935), who took advantage of a rebellion in the Samanid army of Iran to seize power in northern Iran. He soon expanded his domains and captured the cities of Hamadan and Isfahan.
Buwayhid dynasty (934 to 1062)
The Buyid dynasty were a Shī‘ah Persian dynasty that originated from Daylaman in Gilan. They founded a confederation that controlled most of modern-day Iran and Iraq in the 10th and 11th centuries.
The dynasty was founded by Sebuktigin upon his succession to rule of territories centered around the city of Ghazni from his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, a break-away ex-general of the Samanid sultans. Sebuktigin's son, Shah Mahmoud, expanded the empire in the region that stretched from the Oxus river to the Indus Valley and the Indian Ocean; and in the west it reached Rey and Hamadan. Under the reign of Mas'ud I it experienced major territorial losses. It lost its western territories to the Seljuqs in the Battle of Dandanaqan resulting in a restriction of its holdings to what is now Afghanistan, as well as Balochistan and the Punjab. In 1151, Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to Ala al-Din Husayn of Ghur and the capital was moved to Lahore until its subsequent capture by the Ghurids in 1186.
Seljuq Empire (1037 to 1187)
The Seljuqs were a Turco-Persian Sunni Muslim dynasty that ruled parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the 11th to 14th centuries. They set up an empire, the Great Seljuq Empire, which at its height stretched from Anatolia through Persia and which was the target of the First Crusade. The dynasty had its origins in the Turcoman tribal confederations of Central Asia and marked the beginning of Turkic power in the Middle East. After arriving in Persia, the Seljuqs adopted the Persian culture and are regarded as the cultural ancestors of the Western Turks – the present-day inhabitants of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.
Khwarezmian Empire (1077 to 1231)
They ruled Greater Iran in the High Middle Ages, in the period of about 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuqs, Kara-Khitan, and later as independent rulers, up until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The dynasty was founded by Anush Tigin Gharchai, a former slave of the Seljuq sultans, who was appointed the governor of Khwarezm. His son, Qutb ud-Dīn Muhammad I, became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm.
Ilkhanate (1256 to 1353)
The Ilkhanate was a Mongol khanate established in Persia in the 13th century, considered a part of the Mongol Empire. The Ilkhanate was based, originally, on Genghis Khan's campaigns in the Khwarezmid Empire in 1219–1224, and founded by Genghis's grandson, Hulagu, in what territories which today comprise most of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and western Pakistan. The Ilkhanate initially embraced many religions, but was particularly sympathetic to Buddhism and Christianity, and sought a Franco-Mongol alliance with the Crusaders in order to conquer Palestine. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, embraced Islam.
Muzaffarid dynasty (1314 to 1393)
Chupanid dynasty (1337 to 1357)
Jalayerid dynasty (1339 to 1432)
The Jalayirid sultanate lasted about fifty years, until disrupted by Tamerlane's conquests and the revolts of the "Black sheep Turks" or Kara Koyunlu. After Tamerlane's death in 1405, there was a brief unsuccessful attempt to re-establish the Jalayirid sultanate and Jalayirid sultanate was ended by Kara Koyunlu in 1432.
Timurid Empire (1370 to 1506)
The Timurids were a Central Asian Sunni Muslim dynasty of originally Turko-Mongol descent whose empire included the whole of Central Asia, Iran, modern Afghanistan, as well as large parts of Pakistan, India, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Caucasus. It was founded by the militant conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th century.
In the 16th century, Timurid prince Babur, the ruler of Ferghana, invaded India and founded the Mughal Empire, which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent until its decline after Aurangzeb in the early 18th century, and was formally dissolved by the British Raj after the Indian rebellion of 1857.
Qara Qoyunlu Turcomens (1407 to 1468)
Aq Qoyunlu Turcomans (1378 to 1508)
Safavid Era (1501 to 1736)
The Safavid rulers of Persia, like the Mamluks of Egypt, viewed firearms with distaste, and at first made little attempt to adopt them into their armed forces. Like the Mamluks they were taught the error of their ways by the powerful Ottoman armies. Unlike the Mamluks they lived to apply the lessons they had learnt on the battlefield. In the course of the sixteenth century, but still more in the seventeenth, the shahs of Iran took steps to acquire handguns and artillery pieces and to re-equip their forces with them. Initially, the principal sources of these weapons appears to have been Venice, Portugal, and England.
Despite their initial reluctance, the Persians very rapidly acquired the art of making and using handguns. A Venetian envoy, Vincenzo di Alessandri, in a report presented to the Council of Ten on 24 September 1572, observes:
"They used for arms, swords, lances, arquebuses, which all the soldiers carry and use; their arms are also superior and better tempered than those of any other nation. The barrels of the arquebuses are generally six spans long, and carry a ball little less than three ounces in weight. They use them with such facility that it does not hinder them drawing their bows nor handling their swords, keeping the latter hung at their saddle bows till occasion requires them. The arquebus is then put away behind the back so that one weapon does not impede the use of the other."
This picture of the Persian horseman, equipped for almost simultaneous use of the bow, sword, and firearm, aptly symbolized the dramatic and complexity of the scale of changes that the Persian Military was undergoing. While the use of personal firearms was becoming commonplace, the use of field artillery was limited and remained on the whole ineffective.
Shah Abbas (1587–1629) was instrumental in bringing about a 'modern' gunpowder era in the Persian army. Following the Ottoman Army model that had impressed him in combat the Shah set about to build his new army. He was much helped by two English brothers, Anthony and Robert Sherley, who went to Iran in 1598 with twenty-six followers and remained in the Persian service for a number of years. The brothers helped organize the army into an officer-paid and well-trained standing army similar to a European model. It was organized along three divisions: Ghilman ('crown servants or slaves' conscripted from hundreds of thousands of ethnic Circassians, Georgians, and Armenians), Tofongchis (musketeers), and Topchis (artillery-men)
Shah Abbas's new model army was massively successful and allowed him to re-unite parts of Greater Iran and expand his nations territories at a time of great external pressure and conflict.
The Safavid era also saw the full integration and deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Caucasians, notably Circassians, Georgians, Armenians, and other peoples of the Caucasus in Persian society, starting with the era of Shah Tahmasp I, and which would last all the way till the Qajar era. Originally only deployed for being fierce warriors and having beautiful women, this policy was notably significantly expanded under Shah Abbas I, who would use them as a complete new layer in Persian society, most notably to crush the power of the feudal Qizilbash. Under Abbas' own reign, some 200,000 Georgians, tens of thousands of Circassians, and 300,000 Armenians were deported to Iran. Many of them were, as above mentioned, put in the ghilman corps, but the larger masses were deployed in the regular armies, the civil administration, royal household, but also as labourers, farmers, and craftsmen. Many notorious Iranian generals and commanders were of Caucasian ancestry. Many of their descendants linger forth in Iran as the Iranian Georgians, Iranian Circassians, and Iranian Armenians (see demographics of Iran), and many millions of Iranians are estimated to have Caucasian ancestry as a following of this.
Upon the fall of the Safavid dynasty Persia entered into a period of uncertainty. The previously highly organized military fragmented and the pieces were left for the following dynasties to collect.
Afsharid Dynasty (1750 to 1794)
Following the decline of the Safavid state a brilliant general by the name of Nader Shah took the reins of the country. This period and the centuries following it were characterised by the rise in Russian power to Persia's north.
From the time of Peter The Great, the northern states of the Persian Empire were under threat of Russian annexation. In 1710, Tsar Peter formulated his foreign policy principles, the backbone of which was 'invasion and territorial expansion'. The first to suffer from the new Russian power was the Ottoman Empire. However, pressure was soon exerted on the Persian Empire as well. In May 1723, the first major Russo-Persian War occurred and the invasion came as far as the northern city of Rasht. At the Treaty of Bab-e Ali the Ottoman and Russian Empires divided up large portions of Persia between themselves. It was Nader Shah who, with great force, drove the Ottomans and Russians out of the occupied lands and eventually began expanding the borders of Greater Iran.
Following Nader Shah, many of the other leaders of the Afsharid dynasty were weak and the state they had built quickly gave way to the Qajars. As the control of the country de-centralised with the collapse of Nader Shah's rule, many of the peripheral territories of the Empire gained independence and only paid token homage to the Persian State.
Zand Dynasty (1750-1794)
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Qajar Era (1794 to 1925)
The second half of the 18th Century saw a new dynasty take hold in Iran. The new Qajar dynasty was founded on slaughter and plunder of Iranians, particularly Zoroasterian Iranians. The Qajars, under their dynasty founder, Agha Mohammad Khan plundered and slaughtered the aristocrats of the previous Zand Dynasty. Following this, Agha Mohammad Khan was determined to regain all lost territories following the death of Nadir Shah. First on his was the Caucasus, and most notably Georgia. Iran had intermittently ruled most of the Caucasus since 1555, since the early days of the Safavid Dynasty, but while Iran was in chaos and tumult, many of their subjects had declared themselves quasi-independent, or in the case of the Georgians, had plotted an alliance with the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Georgievsk. Agha Mohammad Khan, furious at his Georgian subjects, starting his expedition with 60,000 cavalry under his command, defeated the Russian garrisons stationed there and drove them back out of the entire Caucasus in several important battles, and completely sacked Tblisi, and carried of some 15,000 captives back to Iran. Following the capture of Georgia, Agha Mohammad Khan was murdered by two of his servants who feared they would be executed. The rise of the Qajars was very closely timed with Catherine the Great's order to invade Iran once again. During the Persian Expedition of 1796, Russian troops crossed the Aras River and invaded parts of Azarbaijan and Gilan, while they also moved to Lankaran with the aim of occupying Rasht again. His nephew and successor, Fath Ali Shah, after several successful campaigns of his own against the Afshars, with the help of Minister of War Mirza Assadolah Khan and Minister Amir Kabir created a new strong army, based on the latest European models, for the newly chosen Crown-Prince Abbas Mirza.
This period marked a serious decline in Persia's power and thus its military prowess. From here onwards the Qajar dynasty would face great difficulty in its efforts, due to the international policies mapped out by some western great powers and not Persia herself. Persia's efforts would also be weakened due to continual economic, political, and military pressure from outside of the country (see The Great Game), and social and political pressures from within would make matters worse.
With the consolidation of the Treaty of Georgievsk, Russia annexed eastern Georgia and Dagestan in 1801, dethroning the Bagrationi Dynasty. In 1803, Fath Ali Shah was determined to get Georgia and Dagestan back, and fearing Russia would march on more south towards Persia and the Ottoman Empire too, declared war on Russia. While starting with the upper hand, Russians were ultimately victorious in the Russo-Persian War (1806-1813). From the beginning, Russian troops had a great advantage over the Persians as they possessed much modern Artillery, the use of which had never sunk into the Persian army since the Safavid dynasty three centuries earlier. Nevertheless, the Persian army under the command of Abbas Mirza managed to win several victories over the Russians. Iran's inability to develop modern artillery during the preceding, and the Qajar, dynasty resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813. This marked a turning point in the Qajar attitude towards the military. Abbas Mirza sent a large number of Persians to England to study Western military technology and at the same time he invited British officers to Persia to train the Persian forces under his command. The army's transformation was phenomenal as can be seen from the Battle of Erzeroum (1821) where the new army routed an Ottoman army. This resulted in the Treaty of Erzurum whereby the Ottoman Empire acknowledged the existing frontier between the two empires. These efforts to continue the modernisation of the army through the training of officers in Europe continued until the end of the Qajar dynasty. With the exceptions of Russian and Imperial British armies, the Qajar army of the time was unquestionably the most powerful in the region.
With his new army, Abbas Mirza invaded Russia in 1826. While in the first year of the war Persia managed to regain almost all lost territories, reaching almost Georgia and Dagestan too, the Persian army ultimately proved no match for the significantly larger and equally capable Russian army. The following Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 crippled Persia through the ceding of much of Persia's northern territories and the payment of a colossal war indemnity. The scale of the damage done to Persia through the treaty was so severe that The Persian Army and state would not regain its former strength till the rise and creation of the Soviet Union and the latter's cancellation of the economic elements of the treaty as 'tsarist imperialistic policies'. After these periods of Russo-Persian Wars, Russian influence in Persia rose significantly too.
The reigns of both Mohammad Shah and Nasser al-Din Shah also saw attempts by Persia to bring the city of Herat, occupied by the Afghans, again under Persian rule. In this, though the Afghans were no match for the Persian Army, the Persians were not successful, this time because of British Intervention as part of The Great Game (See papers by Waibel and Esandari Qajar within the Qajar Studies source). Russia backed the Persian attacks, using Persia as a 'cat's paw' for expansion of its own interests. Britain feared the seizure of Herat would leave a route to attack India controlled by a power friendly to Russia, and threatened Persia with closure of the trade of the Persian Gulf. When Persia abandoned its designs on Herat, the British no longer felt India was threatened. This, combined with growing Persian fears about Russian designs on their own country, led to the later period of Anglo-Persian military co-operation.
Ultimately, under the Qajars Persia was shaped into its modern form. Initially, under the reign of Agha Mohammad Khan Persia won back many of its lost territories, notably in the Caucasus, only to be lost again through a series of bitter wars with Russia. In the west the Qajars effectively stopped enroachment of their Ottoman arch rival in the Ottoman–Persian War (1821–23) and in the east the situation remained fluid. Ultimately, through Qajar rule the military institution was further developed and a capable and regionally superior military force was developed. This was quashed by the then superpowers of the day: Russia and Britain.
For World War I, see the Persian Campaign.
Pahlavi Era (1925 to 1979)
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When the Pahlavi dynasty came through power the Qajar dynasty was already weak from years of war with Russia. The standing Persian army was almost non-existent. The new king Reza Shah Pahlavi, was quick to develop a new military. In part, this involved sending hundreds of officers to European and American military academies. It also involved having foreigners re-train the existing army within Iran. In this period the Iranian Air Force was established and the foundation for a new Navy was laid.
Following Germany's invasion of the USSR in June 1941, Britain and the Soviet Union became allies. Both saw the newly opened Trans-Iranian Railroad as a strategic route to transport supplies from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet region. In August 1941, Britain and the USSR invaded Iran and deposed Reza Shah Pahlavi in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Following the end of the Second World War Iran's independence was respected and both countries withdrew.
Following a number of clashes in April 1969, international relations with Iraq fell into a steep decline, mainly due to a dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the 1937 Algiers Accord. Iran abrogated the 1937 accord and demanded a renegotiation which ended completely in its favor. Furthermore, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi embarked on an unprecedented modernization program for the armed forces. In many cases Iran was being supplied with advanced weaponry even before it was supplied to the armies of the countries that developed it. The Iranian military, while very well armed and trained at this point was totally reliant on external suppliers for its equipment. By 1978 Iran had the worlds 5th strongest and largest army and was the clear undisputed regional superpower. During this period of strength Iran protected its interests militarily in the region: In Oman, the Dhofar Rebellion was squashed. In November 1971 Iranian forces seized control of three uninhabited but strategic islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
In the 1960s as the countries oil revenues began to flow in, and diplomatic relations were established in many countries, Iran began to expand its military. In the 1960s it purchased Canada's fleet of 90 Canadair Sabre planes equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. These airplanes were later sold to Pakistan. Other purchases in the 1960s included 9K11 Malyutka anti-tank missiles from Russia, 4 minesweepers from the USA approximately 1000 howitzers from Canada, USA, Sweden, and Russia, as well as 100 American M48 Patton tanks and 110 T-54/55 Russian tanks. They purchased hundreds of American M113 armored personnel carrier and Mk 19 grenade launcher from the USA as well as 1425 BTR-40/BTR-50/BTR-60 from the Russians.
In the early 1970's the Iranian economy saw record years of growth thanks to booming oil prices. By 1976, the Iranian GDP was the largest in the Greater Middle East. The Shah of Iran set about modernizing the Iranian military, becoming intent on purchasing billions of dollars worth of the most sophisticated arms and advanced weaponry through countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
Iran's purchases from the United States prior to the Iranian Revolution included 79 F-14 Tomcats, 400 M60 Patton tanks, 209 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II planes and 16 RF-4E reconnaissance planes, 166 Northrop F-5 fighting planes and 15 Northrop RF-5A reconnaissance planes, hundreds of support and attack helicopters (Boeing CH-47 Chinook, Bell UH-1N Twin Huey, Mil Mi-8 and Mil Mi-17) 12 Lockheed P-3 Orion planes and 2 decommissioned and modernized American destroyers, (USS Zellars and USS Stormes).
Iran's purchases from the United Kingdom prior to the 1979 revolution included 1 decommissioned and modernized British destroyer (HMS Sluys), 4 British build frigates (Alvand class frigate),  8 light repair ships from Germany, 16 Osa class missile boat from the Soviet Union, 200 ZSU-23-4 artillery vehicles, 500 M109 howitzer, 24 MQM-107 Streaker drones, 30000 TOW missiles as well as thousands of air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-54 Phoenix, AGM-65 Maverick and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Iran had the largest fleet of hovercraft in the world and one of the worlds largest fleet of helicopters. Iran had ordered tens of thousands of missiles, including M47 Dragon anti-tank missiles, SS.12/AS.12 surface-to-air missiles MIM-23 Hawk anti aircraft, Sea Killer anti-ship missiles, Mark 80, 82 and 83 bombs, Rapier anti-aircraft missiles and RIM-66B Standard-1MR SAM missiles, and Strela-2/SA-7 Grail SAM missiles. Iran ordered large quantities of medium and heavy artillery ranging in the tens of thousands and to this day has the largest stockpile of these types of weapons in the Middle East. From Russia it ordered many transport trucks and 300 BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers.
By the time that the revolution had come Iran was manufacturing in collaboration with Americans working in Iran TOW missiles and Bell 204, Bell 205 and Bell 214 helicopters. Iran was also manufacturing with the help of the Soviets RPG-7, SA-7, and the BM-21 Grad. It had almost 500,000 soldiers in its rank and was ordering tens of billions in weapons. All of the arms deals listed below were cancelled following the revolution.
From the USA an incredible order for more than $15 billion in fighter jets were placed, for 300 F-16 Fighting Falcons, 16 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II RF-4E reconnaissance planes and a further 71 Grumman F-14 Tomcats on top of the 79 that had arrived. All of these orders were due in 1980. Other orders included 250 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, 90 F-15 Eagles, 70 Fairchild A-10 attack bombers all of which were due by 1985.
In the way of helicopters, Iran had ordered some 500 attack and transport helicopters in a $3 billion deal, in an attempt to add to its fleet of 700 attack and transport helicopters. These included the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk as well as further Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Several launch pads with very advanced radar systems were planned to be built.
A massive order was made by the Shah of Iran in an attempt to modernize the Iranian Imperial Navy. By 1980 the Iranian Navy was due to get 4 Kidd class destroyers equipped with Standard missiles, Harpoon missiles, Phalanx CIWSs and Mark 46 torpedoes, 6 Spruance class destroyer equipped with ASROC launchers, Harpoon missiles, and Sea Sparrow missiles, 3 used Tang class submarine (not paid for, donated by US Navy) equipped with sub Harpoon missiles and several older landing crafts. By 1985 the navy was due to receive a further order including the 10 used Knox-class frigates equipped with Harpoon launchers, and Standard missiles and 2 new Tarawa class amphibious assault ships equipped with 2 Mark 45 guns, 4 Sea Sparrow Systems, capable of carrying 6 British Aerospace Sea Harrier and 20 Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallions. Also on this list were 2 new Ticonderoga class cruisers equipped with Harpoon missiles, RIM-7 missiles, ASROC and the Vertical Launching system and 2 Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships (not paid for, donated by US Navy) capable of carrying 25 helicopters. The USA and Iran had agreed a deal for Iran to purchase 9 used Belknap class cruisers equipped with Harpoon missiles, Standard missiles and an ASROC launcher. Large bases, hangars and ports were to be built to accommodate these purchases.
A order were placed for several types of tanks and armored personnel carriers such as the M551 Sheridan and the M113 armored personnel carrier equipped with TOW missiles. Iran placed an order for 10 new Boeing E-3 Sentry (AWACS), and when finding the USA reluctant to sell made it known that Britain was interested. To refill their vast air force they had ordered 12 Boeing 707 tankers capable of refueling planes in midair. Iran had ordered tens of thousands of various missiles from the USA and Britain some which came but the majority never did.
A further 500 M109 howitzer's, 400 M60 Patton A3 tanks were ordered in a deal worth under 1 billion. 3000 trucks and 6000 Jeeps were being manufactured in Iran with the help of the USA were on their way to the front as well as a booming technological industry
The Iranians placed a 2000 Challenger tanks from the British along with a further 300 Chieftain tanks and 250 FV101 Scorpion light tanks. A $3 billion order was placed for 3 Invincible class aircraft carrier able to carry 18 jets and 4 helicopters and the aircraft carrier's to be equipped with Sea Sparrow missiles and Goalkeeper CIWS. Included in this order were 6 Type 42 destroyer's equipped with Harpoon missiles, a Sea Dart missile system and Sea Wolf missiles. Along with this order were several minesweepers, patrol boats and further SR.N6 military hovercrafts. Iran also had contracted them for training, construction of bases and further development of Iranian made military products. After the USA, Britain was Iran's largest arms supplier. This trend would continue with many other countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
From the Dutch Iran, ordered 8 Kortenaer class frigate's equipped with Harpoon missiles, Sea Sparrow missiles, and Mark 46 torpedoes. Iran had ordered from the Germans 6 Type 206 submarine's and 6 Type 209 submarine's submarines to be equipped with sub Harpoon missiles and from the French 12 La Combattante IIa class fast attack craft's equipped with Exocet missiles, of which 2 arrived. From Japan 4 mine layers were ordered but only was delivered the Iran Ajr, which was subsequently captured by the USA in the Iran-Iraq war.[not in citation given]
Most of the orders placed from Russia were lighter weaponry such as arms and trucks. They had placed an order for 400 ASU-85 anti tank guns, 400 BMP-1 light tank and storage facilities and a further 200 ZSU-23-4 artillery vehicles.
The Americans had actually started construction on missile sites to guard the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean which involved Iran buying missiles like the P-15 Termit from Russia, Exocet from France, 9K115 Metis from Russia, MIM-104 Patriot from USA, and the Tomahawk (missile) from the USA. These missiles and their launch sites which were jointly built by the USA (80%) and the Europeans (20%) would make Iran capable of defending itself from any seaborne, land or airborne attack.
When the Carter administration turned down Iran's request for nuclear capable missiles, they turned to the Israelis. They were working on the Project Flower ballistic missiles with Israel, and had already begun purchasing 1 billion worth of Iraeli light arms as well as expressing interest in an upgraded Mirage V, the IAI Kfir and the Gabriel (missile). Other orders included radars, and electromagnetic warfare technology.
Should the orders have been completed Iran would have been the undisputed great-power in the region and would have had the world's third most powerful military. At the same time Iran began construction on a few military bases including the Chah Bahar military complex. At this time Iran was purchasing over $20bn in nuclear stations, 8 locations would be built by the Americans, 6 by the Germans and 2 by the French, for its 36,000 MW nuclear project which could produce enough uranium each year for 700-800 warheads. By 1985 Iran had planned to stop ordering military equipment and would have been able to field one of the most powerful armies in the world.
Before the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iran contributed to United Nations peacekeeping operations. Iran joined ONUC in the Congo in the 1960s, and ten years later, Iranian troops joined UNDOF on the Golan Heights.
Islamic Republic of Iran (1979 to Present)
In 1979, the year of the Shah's departure and the revolution, the Iranian military experienced a 60% desertion from its ranks. Following the ideological principles of the Islamic revolution in Iran, the new revolutionary government sought to strengthen its domestic situation by conducting a purge of senior military personnel closely associated with the Pahlavi Dynasty. It is still unclear how many were dismissed or executed. The purge encouraged the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein to view Iran as disorganised and weak, leading to the Iran–Iraq War. The indecisive eight-year war wreaked havoc on the region and the Iranian military, only coming to an end in 1988 after it expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between the United States Navy and Iranian military forces between 1987-1988. Following the Iran–Iraq War an ambitious military rebuilding program was set into motion with the intention to create a fully fledged military industry.
Regionally, since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has sought to exert its influence by supporting various groups (militarily and politically). It openly supports Hezbollah in Lebanon in order to influence Lebanon. Various Kurdish groups are also supported as needed in order to maintain control of its Kurdish regions. In neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran supported the Northern Alliance for over a decade against the Taliban, and nearly went to war against the Taliban in 1998.
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