Skip to comments.The Day the Americans Sunk Khomeini's Navy
Posted on 01/11/2008 6:48:38 PM PST by gusopol3
The Day the Americans Sunk Khomeini's Navy Friday 11 January 2008
The other day in the Strait of Hormuz history repeated itself but, as always in such cases, only as farce. Five French-made speedboats flying the colors of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran's parallel army, approached a US warship in a "threatening posture." When the Americans asked what the Iranians wanted, the answer came loud and clear: Move away or we will sink you!
In response, the Americans trained their heavy guns on the tiny IRGC boats and prepared to fire. The incident ended with some huffing and puffing at the end of which the IRGC warriors backed off and sailed away.
Had the IRGC not run away we might have had a repeat of what happened on 18 April 1987.
On that day, a group of IRGC speedboats actually fired on a US warship, triggering a naval duel that lasted more than 12 hours.
At the end of the day, the IRGC had lost most of its navy, a loss from which it did not recover until the mid-1990s. The Americans also did "collateral damage" worth $1.2 billion to Iran's offshore oil installations. No one knows how many IRGC men died. However, thanks to their better equipment, superior firepower and training, the Americans sustained few losses.
The duel had come in the context of Tehran's campaign to stop the flow of Kuwaiti oil through the Strait by firing on tankers flying the Kuwaiti flag. Asked for help by Kuwait, the US had put the tankers under American flag. But even that had not stopped the IRGC's quixotic campaign.
Significantly, the Americans took extra care not to destroy Iran's regular navy which they had helped build in the1970s. With one or exceptions, the Iranian regular navy stayed on the sidelines as the IRGC took a beating. The IRGC and its political masters showed that they had not learned one basic lesson of strategy: not to join battle unless you have at least a 50 per cent chance. The 18 April 1987 battle has entered US naval history as one of the five greatest victories ever won at sea by the Americans. (It is taught at US naval academies as a model for sea warfare.)
The battle, which has been kept a secret from the Iranian people to this day, had greater consequences. It showed that the regime created by Khomeini, like other authoritarian and/or totalitarian ones elsewhere in the world, lacked self-restraining mechanisms and would not stop unless it hit something hard. (Last year, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put this in his usual colorful way when he said that the Islamic Republic's nuclear policy was a locomotive with no clutch, back-gear, or brakes.)
Having hit something hard on his way, the ayatollah decreed an immediate halt to attacks on tankers. He also ordered the IRGC to maintain a low profile within territorial waters. Khomeini understood that his brake-less locomotive had hit something hard and feared that, if he persisted, it might hit something harder. The ayatollah who understood politics as the art of managing the use of violence, realized that he was provoking something more than the homeopathic doses of violence, mostly in the form of diplomatic gesticulations, that his American adversaries had used in response to the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, the holding of American hostages in Iran and Lebanon, and the mass killing, by Hezbollah suicide-bombers, of 241 US marines in Beirut.
Khomeini was forced to break his public pledge not to end the war with Iraq until his armies "liberate Karbala and move on to liberate Jerusalem."
Within hours, his envoys at the United Nations were indicating that he would end the war provided the Americans took no further action.
Within weeks, the ayatollah had ordered an end to a war that had lasted eight years, cost a million lives, produced four million displaced persons, wiped out Iran's biggest port, and cost the nation some $200 billion dollars in physical damage. (Khomeini described his decision as "drinking a cup of poison". Ten months later, he was dead.)
If last week's pseudo-engagement at Hormuz did not develop into a re-make of the 18 April 1987, it was because someone in Tehran ordered the IRGC to cut and run.
Whoever that "someone" in Tehran may be, has demonstrated that he has learned the lesson of the 18 April disaster. Provoking the Americans into a military conflict at this time could be even more disastrous for the Khomeinist regime. In 1987, the Americans had just a few hundred troops in the region, mostly as technical advisors. Today, they have more than 230,000 in Iraq, the Gulf, and Afghanistan. In 1987, the US could threaten the Khomeinist regime only from the southwest as the USSR controlled all regions to the north plus Afghanistan to east of Iran. Today, the US has a ring of bases around Iran- from Turkey to Pakistan, passing by Transcaucasia, Central Asia and Afghanistan. In addition, the US has assembled the largest naval battle group ever seen in the region. Two other factors must be taken into account. First, the Bush administration has already declared the IRGC "a terrorist organization", making it politically easier to take action against it.
Secondly, it is clear that were a clash to take place now it would not remain limited as in 1987. At that time, the Reagan administration only wanted to ensure the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Today, the Bush administration hopes to reshape the balance of power in the Middle East in a way that could leave no place for the Islamic Republic without major changes in its overall policies and behavior. A military conflict today cannot end in a draw. Nor could it be kept a secret from the Iranian people. It would have to end with a clear winner a loser. Despite the so-called "scoops" about US plans to launch a war to change the regime in Tehran, a major military conflict at this time remains unlikely.
The reason is that "someone" in Tehran, whoever it is, may have understood the fact that a regime that, compared to 1987, has lost much of its popular base is in no position to risk another war.
Despite astronomical sums spent on building a military machine, the Islamic Republic is still in no position to enter a regular war with any hope of surviving, let alone winning. However, it remains a "superpower" in asymmetrical warfare, suicide-attacks, hostage taking, and what the rest of the world regards as terrorism. In that sense, the Islamic Republic has been at war with the US since 4 November 1979 and continues to inflict losses on its American enemies wherever possible, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is why those speedboats were ordered to run away, leaving the Americans with a dire choice: either to assume the responsibility of triggering a major conflict or continuing to accept the drip-drip losses inflicted on them for decades by the IRGC in asymmetric war.
The author must be referring to “Operation Praying Mantis” on April 18, 1988, not 1987.
looks like you’re right.
Good analysis. Thanks.
Huh??? Yeah, Operation Praying Mantis was totally one-sided and the Iranians got their asses handed to them, but "...one of the five greatest victories ever won at sea by the Americans"? Considering our naval history, I don't think so.
April 18 seems to be an unlucky day for America’s enemies. It was on April 18, 1942 that American bombers raided Tokyo for the first time. On that date a year later, Yamamoto Isoroku, the commander-in-chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet died after the aircraft in which he was riding was shot down by American P-38 fighters.
He leaves out that iran had hundreds of land-based super and Hypersonic anti-ship missiles within 20 miles of our ships. Had they wanted to this time, they could have killed most of our sailors and sunk three of our ships.
We need to go in and take out their missiles in a preemptive strike to prevent this from happening in the future.
Paul Revere’s ride
220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers. Taheri needs to engage in better research before putting his thoughts on paper.
The Iranian frigate IS Sahand (F 74) burns after being attacked by the Joseph Strauss and A-6s. Sahand was hit by three Harpoon missiles, Skipper rocket-propelled bombs, a Walleye laser-guided bomb, and several 1,000-pound bombs. U.S. Navy photo
Actually, we of course knew about the Chinese Silkworms and other anti-ship missile capabilities of Iran. We deployed EA-6B prowlers to disable those missiles using jamming capabilities to neutralize their fire control radar. Some missile launching sites were mobile, and aircraft armed with AGM-88 HARM missiles were patrolling the coast where they could possibly have been set up within range of our ships - just waiting for them to turn on their radar so they could be destroyed.
I was in the air traffic control tower on the USS Enterprise that day.
That is not to say none of our sailors were in ‘harm’s way’ that day. There were SEAL teams active on oil platforms, and some small craft engaged in direct combat (this predates the suicide zodiac used in Yemen). It is also possible that Iran could have launched missiles at our aircraft - but I think it was clear this would have been futile given our capabilities vs theirs. I think there’s a lesson for us today in the actions Iran took almost 20 years ago.
Iran had fiery rhetoric and from time to time did some crazy stuff (then as now) but they did not want to escalate in the face of certain defeat. In fact, given our resolute reaction to the mining in the Gulf, shortly after this incident, an iranian airliner was shot down. Do a search on the USS Vincennes in wikipedia. Rhetoric from the mullahs followed about how Iran was a peace loving nation and could not stoop to combat an evil nation such as America who would shoot down a jetliner full of innocent civilians, etc. Bottom line: they halted their aggressive stance, blaming America’s unfair fighting.
Some rumors around the Navy said at the time that the jet that was shot down was ‘squawking’ F4 Phantom (Identify Friend or Foe signals indicated it was a fighter despite radar signature to the contrary). Wikipedia mentions these claims, but who knows? Another one that Wikipedia doesn’t mention but was going around the Navy shortly after the incident was photos shown on Iranian TV of the deceased passengers that were hauled out of the water shortly after the shootdown appeared to be either fully clothed or completely naked, in various stages of decomposition, some with suspicious wounds (looked like gunshot) and some were ‘coincidentally’ political opponents of the mullahs. Too bad Free Republic wasn’t around then our we could have proved those claims to be “RATHER” suspect.
Is it beyond the realm of rational thought that the mullahs staged the incident - putting bodies of political opponents and recently deceased on the plane, fitted the aircraft with an IFF transponder from one of the F4’s we had sold to the Shah (they certainly had plenty), and then sent the plane on a path knowing it would be shot down? As things appeared to unfold, the mullahs had a way of starkly contrasting their ‘peace loving ways’ vs the US’s boundless evil. The Wiki article doesn’t do much to defend us, but if that incident happened now - what would we think knowing what we know about Ahmadinejad and the Iranian theocracy? Its a twist on suicide bombers - not to kill us but to humiliate us...in the hands of our media today - imagine an Abu Ghraib like event where the war mongers shot down a civilian plane? We’d have human interest stories on each victim for years!
One other incident of note that NEVER gets mentioned but should (no controversy/tinfoil hat here) is that a few months after returning to the US, the captain of the Vincenne’s wife’s minivan was bombed. I think that was the first terrorist attack on US Soil by Hezbollah or the Iranian Republican Guard...they should really look into that incident.
It’s my understanding that Iran’s latest missiles are hypersonic and that our phalanx systems aren’t any use against them.