Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces


Immortal is the only single-volume English-language survey of Iran's military history. CIA analyst Steven R. Ward shows that Iran's soldiers, from the famed "Immortals" of ancient Persia to today's Revolutionary Guard, have demonstrated through the centuries that they should not be underestimated. This history also provides background on the nationalist, tribal, and religious heritages of the country to help readers better understand Iran and its security outlook.

Immortal begins with the founding of ancient Persia's empire under Cyrus the Great and continues through the Iran-Iraq War (1980--1988) and up to the present. Drawing on a wide range of sources including declassified documents, the author gives primary focus to the modern era to relate the build-up of the military under the last Shah, its collapse during the Islamic revolution, its fortunes in the Iran-Iraq War, and its rise from the ashes to help Iran become once again a major regional military power. He shows that, despite command and supply problems, Iranian soldiers demonstrate high levels of bravery and perseverance and have enjoyed surprising tactical successes even when victory has been elusive. These qualities and the Iranians' ability to impose high costs on their enemies by exploiting Iran's imposing geography bear careful consideration today by potential opponents.


The Iranian Phoenix

IN 1978 IRAN AND ITS ARMED FORCES seemed to stand at the peak of their power and prestige in the modern era. Bountiful oil revenues and a strategic position overlooking the vital Persian Gulf oil export routes boosted Iran's standing in the world. Cold War competition made Iran a recipient of Western and Soviet arms and attention. Iran had just passed Egypt, a far more populous country, in having the largest armed forces in the Middle East. In fact, the Iranian military was outpacing some large European countries in the quantity and sophistication of its equipment. Iran was the only country other than the United States to possess the state-of-the-art F-14 Tomcat fighter. Iran's military also was funding the development of the advanced British Challenger tank with its then revolutionary Chobham composite armor. These programs represented only the middle stages of an extravagant rearmament process, with numerous sophisticated ground, air, and naval systems on order. In addition, the Iranian armed forces, the Artesh, had polished their reputation by gaining combat experience battling rebels in neighboring Oman and by participating in a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

The shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, took special pride in reestablishing Iran's military might after more than a century of Iranian humiliation as a victim of Russian and British imperialism. The shah constantly conjured up images of the majesty of ancient Persia, which, 2,500 years earlier, had become the world's first superpower. This heritage was used to help legitimize Pahlavi rule but also supported Iran's claim to a position among the prevailing great powers. During one of his regular military parades in Tehran in October 1978, the shah hosted a delegation of American military officials that included U.S. Army colonel Colin Powell. As the colonel sat in the reviewing stand, an elite troop named the “Immortals” in conscious imitation of fabled Persian warriors of antiquity marched by. Powell, a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, noted favorably their tailored uniforms and martial élan. American support to its Iranian ally seemed to be paying off with the . . .

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