Index Home About Blog
Subject: Imperial Iran
From: Alon Harksberg
Date: 9/20/98 9:00:11 AM

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Exercise "Robah Ee Eshz'aha"
(Persian for "the Fox and the Dragon"), the last big maneuver carried out
by the Imperial Iranian armed forces prior to the Islamic revolution. I
had the pleasure of participating (along with approximately 50 other
Israeli "observers") in this impressive dual Corps level exercise which
took place at the Dashti Kawir (Persian for "Desert of Salt"), a vast
expanse of sand located south east of Teheran. The exercise, which was
mainly designed to test the capabilities of the Shah's newly established
6th Airborne Corps, involved hundreds of aircraft, tanks, artillery, CE,
AD along with tens of thousands of infantry and airborne forces (plus
many thousands of foreign nationals who maintained and sometimes even
operated much of the Iranian hardware). For its time (and perhaps even in
current terms), the Imperial airborne corps was extremely well led,
trained and equipped, on par with most of NATO. It had a vast armada of
brand new helicopters (Chinooks, Cobras, Kiowas, Hueys) at its disposal
as well as modern weapon systems including TOWs, Dragoons, Blowpipes and

Among the many fascinating scenarios, which were explored (to various
scales), was a Soviet double pronged armored thrust towards Teheran along
both shores of the Caspian Sea. The Imperial airborne corps, augmented by
several battalions of special forces, was assigned to block strategic
mountain passes, destroy Speznaz infiltrations and even interdict
airfields and traffic inside Soviet territory. Many top ranking US
officers attended this part of the exercise.

Another potentially explosive scenario was a combined amphibious /
airborne assault on Bahrain, with the airborne corps assigned to capture
the city and its airport.  I remember that the Iranian generals truly
believed that this island, just like other Persian Gulf islands, was an
integral part of Iran and were very serious about this part of the
exercise. They were also intensely paranoid about the vulnerability of
the straits of Hormoz (or "the esophagus of the Persian Empire" as they
called) and were convinced that a Soviet take over of Oman was imminent.
They were therefore convinced that preempting such a move and capturing
the Omani half of the straits was of paramount national importance. I
believe that had Imperial Iran continued to exist, an Iranian invasion of
Bahrain or Oman or both was inevitable.

The most relevant and interesting scenario explored a joint
Iranian-Pakistani intervention into Afghanistan (which much like Imperial
Iran itself was on the brink of total chaos at that time). The Imperial
airborne corps was first assigned to capture the remote city of Shindad
in a full scale airborne assault.  After the mainstay of the Iranian army
converged on Shindad via Herat and Delarm, the airborne corps was then
assigned to assist the Pakistanians in the capture of Kabul and Kandanhar
by cutting down Afghanistan in two. To this end, the airborne corps was
to split up into individual battalions and fan out all over central
Afghanistan, capturing key road and railway junctions.

Even though this exercise took place only 2 years before the First Gulf
War, no Iraqi offensive or defensive scenario was explored. It was
considered a waste of money. The Iranians were absolutely sure that they
could easily crush the much weaker Iraqi in a matter of days. In fact,
they were pretty sure that they could conquer the whole of Iraq in a
matter of days! Today this may sound a bit arrogant but back in the
1970s, the Imperial Iranian army was really one of the better led,
trained and equipped armies in the world and it was getting better and
better all the time. I remember the Shah making a short appearance at the
end of the exercise and babbling on and on about the resurrected Iranian
Empire in all of its glory, armed to the teeth with thousands of Shir
tanks, hundreds of F-16 fighters and even cruise missiles and an aircraft

Index Home About Blog