June 29, 2018
The United States and Iran were at war from 1980 until 1988. It was a small war, limited in scope, measured in its intensity – but a war nonetheless. This conflict began with the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and ended with the shoot down of Iran Air Flight 655 by USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988.
From an Iranian perspective the war was part of the Islamic Revolution for two reasons. First, the United States supported the deposed Shah and refused to extradite him to back to Iran. Second, the “Great Satan” assisted Iraq in its war against Iran that sought to gain territory and maintain its secular government over an oppressed Shia majority. For the U.S. the conflict was a maritime security operation, an effort to ensure the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz with the added benefit of increasing its influence in the region while minimizing that of the Soviet Union. Most challenging to this effort was the fact that the Reagan Administration did not want to be drawn deeper into the Iran-Iraq war. Thus, American response to Iranian attacks, while decisive, were always restrained and never extended to Iran’s homeland.
The embassy siege and subsequent failed rescue attempt known as “Eagle Claw,” are parts of the overall conflict, especially since these events were directly connected to the Iranian Revolution. This phase ended with the release of the hostages just after President Reagan was inaugurated. A second phase began as the Iran-Iraq war spilled into the Persian Gulf. Its most intense period began in July 1987 with the inception of Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. Navy’s campaign to support the free flow of commerce in the Persian Gulf. It included four notable skirmishes – Iran Ajr, Operation Nimble Archer, Operation Praying Mantis, and the aforementioned Vincennes incident. An analysis of each of these from a tactical perspective will serve any naval officer, analyst, or historian in understanding maritime security operations, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Equally important, they serve as an important precursor to understand the conflicts that followed, Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror.
Stephen Phillips is a member of the Senior Professional Staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL). He is an analyst providing support to U.S. Navy Program Offices, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), and other Department of Defense (DoD) elements.
Stephen graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1992 with a B.S. in Political Science. Commissioned in the United States Navy, he served as a Surface Warfare Officer, Special Operations Officer, Diving Officer, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician.
In his civilian career, Steve spent five years supporting various missile defense offices while employed by Anteon Corporation. He joined JHU/APL in December 2005 where Steve has supported a wide variety of projects to include missile defense, nuclear weapons security, submarine rescue, counter-IED, and irregular warfare analysis.
An award-winning novelist, Steve’s first work, Proximity, garnered the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal in 2008. His second novel, The Recipient’s Son, has been used as a tool for honor remediation at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Steve is pursuing a PhD in War Studies through King’s College London. His dissertation is a historical case study of Operation Earnest Will.