Immortal: A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces, by Steven R. Ward

Four stars (of five)

Ward offers great insight into the repeated rise and fall of what has become known as the Iranian military. Offering historical foundation spanning over 2500 years, Ward both depicts Iran as an ever-evolving military force and pinpoints its greatest foible in the ebb and flow of its military and political dominance of the region. Ward begins his examination with a thorough look at Persia and its wars with the Romans to wrestle empiric power away from Caesar and create the Persian Dynasty. While dominating strategic planning and territorial defence, Persia did eventually fold into the Ottoman Empire, where it remained settled for centuries, while Europe expanded and state sovereignty came to fruition. Persian troops continued to hone their skills and put them to the ultimate test when the Ottomans sides with Germany in the Great War, pitting Persia against the likes of Britain, France, and, eventually, the United States. This was surely a sobering experience for Persia, whose pleas in Paris in 1919 fell onto deaf ears and allowed Britain to take control of the region as a form of protectorate. Persia, now Iran, was permitted ongoing military development, though it was leashed and kept under control, but flourished in the region, staking its claim to part of the Middle East spoils. By the Second World War, Iran was in a prosperous location for both the Allies and Axis, with its oil and geographic location into the Middle East. When the Cold War fell, both American and Russian involvement in the region created a miniature Germany, with both superpowers trying to hold onto the region. The United States held its ground and supported the shah system of monarchical rule, with democratic government making the day to day decisions in the region. Each shah kept close ties to the Americans, which would become its downfall decades later. Shah-centric issues riddled Iran’s history and military until the forceful Islamic Revolution, historically significant and likely one of the major reasons the Western World knows anything about modern Iran. Ward is clear to show how embedded Iran and its military was with America, which likely led to the Shah’s downfall and the infamous hostage crisis of 1979-81. The book would not be complete without discussion of the Iran-Iraq War, where Iran’s military held the upper hand on numerous occasions, but would not take the final steps to ensure victory. Ward argues that, by creating a stalemate, both sides ended up where they began, wasting eight years of fighting. In the 21st century, Iran has emerged as a powerful military in the region, still run by theocratic despots who have their fingers on the nuclear button. However, one main reason America has not sought to strike and remove the current regime is that Iran is a military force to be reckoned with, unlike some of its neighbours. As such, Ward argues, the future remains unclear. Truly, Iran’s military history is highly complex and ever-evolving, as the curious reader will discover.

Ward encapsulates the history of the region and its military quite effectively, perhaps too much so. The detailed history can numb the reader whose interest lies in general information and not nuanced facts. However, his detailed discussions do prove highly effective in seeing the great progress and regression in Iran’s military might. Ward fills a gap for people like me, who know little about the region and how it made its way onto the top five Enemies of the Unite States of America. Ward effectively sells the point that there is much to know about Iran and that its military is not simply a mish-mash of Bedouins and knife-toting men. The advancements made by Persia/Iran and its numerous alliances helped to create quite the multi-faceted defence corp.

Kudos, Mr. Ward for your detailed analysis. Taking the time to share what you know has given me a better understanding of the region and its people, especially from a military perspective.