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Policy Analysis

Policy Focus 87

Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare

Farzin Nadimi

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September 2008

As nuclear negotiations between Iran and the international community enter a more dangerous and uncertain phase, further tensions and confrontations are likely on an often-overlooked front: the vital shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf. Given its natural geographic advantages and deliberate military development, the Islamic Republic effectively holds the Strait of Hormuz -- the world's oil lifeline -- at risk. And despite its overall defensive posture in these waters, Iran could take preemptive action in response to a perceived threat of imminent attack.

In this Policy Focus, Iranian military expert Fariborz Haghshenass outlines what form such action might take given Tehran's efforts to greatly expand the role and capabilities of its unconventional naval forces. In the two decades since the Iran-Iraq War, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy has been transformed into a highly motivated, well-equipped, and well-financed force, capable of executing its unique doctrine of asymmetric naval warfare against larger naval forces and key regional energy assets alike. Understanding the nature, scope, and likelihood of this threat is a critical facet of both the nuclear issue and Iran's wider regional ambitions.


Farzin Nadimi is an expert on the Iranian military who has published widely on the subject. Among other things, he is the author of the Washington Institute PolicyWatches "Iran's Doctrine of Asymmetric Naval Warfare" and "Iran's Air Forces: Struggling to Maintain Readiness."

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