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Policy Analysis

Policy Focus 164

Iran's Evolving Approach to Asymmetric Naval Warfare: Strategy and Capabilities in the Persian Gulf

Farzin Nadimi

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April 2020

In an April 22 tweet, President Trump spoke of instructing the U.S. Navy to destroy any Iranian gunboats that "harass our ships at sea." Aside from whether it departed from existing U.S. rules of engagement, the statement highlighted a persistent reality: the military threat posed by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf. Months before the coronavirus pandemic seized the world's attention, these forces were already reasserting themselves through bold actions against U.S., Saudi, and wider Gulf interests.

In this impressively detailed Policy Focus -- an updated version of his 2008 volume -- military expert Farzin Nadimi offers historical context and specifics on Iran's naval activities in the Gulf. The study, which includes maps, tables, and other graphics, covers everything from submarines to sea mines, while also distinguishing between the roles of the revolutionary navy (IRGCN) and the conventional one (IRIN). Most important, it offers a sober take on Iran's capabilities and intentions during a perilously unstable time.


Farzin Nadmi is an associate fellow with The Washington Institute who specializes in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Persian Gulf region. A native Persian speaker, he holds a PhD in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Manchester.