Captain talks about Shahid Safari Operation

Crucial moments when commandos broke the back of oil terminals

Maryam Assadi Jafari
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Note: Oil and access to international waters were the economic-political lifelines of Iran and Iraq during the eight-year Iraqi imposed war against the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the other hand, the two countries did their best to continue extracting and exporting oil from the sea. Meanwhile, domination over the international waters in southern Iran and the destruction of the Saddam’s navy was of great importance. At the same time, the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran took the first step took the first step for destroying the enemy’s two giant oil terminals through carrying out Shahid Safari Operation in November 1980. The retires Lieutenant Captain Saeed Shokouhi who was among the designing team of the operation and the coordinator officer of the operation’s plan and a planner of the Morvarid (pearl) Operation has retold his memoirs of the naval battle of Shahid Safari in an interview with the correspondent of Iranian Oral History website:  


*Where were you when the Iraqi imposed war against Iran started?

*When the war began, I was in Tehran and intended to come out of the Navy. The situation was not suitable for those who believed in discipline in the army and considered hierarchy for the durability and survival of the army. Therefore, I had been transferred to Tehran and intended to make final decision. It was in this situation that the war began and the attacks of the jetfighters of the Ba’thist’s enemy on the airports especially Mehrabad Airport was a starting point for me to continue my job. Thus, I got ready to be dispatched to the war fronts as a volunteer. I did so and was sent to the front and started my job as an expert in the destroyers. I was in Bandar Abbas during the first month of the war. I sailed off the sea with the heavy destroyers and along with the tactical commanders. But after two consecutive navigations, during the very first month of the war, I found out that the war’s signs had not reached to Bandar Abbas and the enemy was not able to reach there. So I requested to send me to Bushehr where I felt I could be closer to the war zone. In the beginning, I was chosen for a special operation.


*What was the special operation?

*It was a collection of an unconventional operation which did not include in the framework of institutional and commandership relations.  The special operation is a collection of special affairs in which works such as the collection of the enemy’s information, harassing him or an effective attack against the enemy can be used. The Special Operation Unit was in Combat Force Unit 421 which commanded the sea war throughout the sea front – the Persian Gulf area or any other place where sea war with the enemy might take place. Logistically, the Combat Force Unit 421 commanded such war and Captain Mustafa Madani Nejad was the commander of the force and the Special Operation team was at its heart.  The organization and conduct of this task force and its guidance had already been written. The Special Operation Unit was an unconventional composition of the navy’s volunteers.  Nobody was there by force.


*Did you take the commandership of the Special Operation team from Shahid Safari Operation? Was it your first experience in the war?

*Well, it’s better to say that I was not the commander of the unit at that point. Because when I entered in the Special Operation team, I was one of the members of the team. Gradually, things happened that I took the responsibility of the tem in Operation Morvardi. The war initiatives especially in an operation like the special operation could not be formed with the previous expertise, and we had no war before in order to obtain special expertise needed for a war. But, in general, the culture of a military operation has principles the composition of which in a kind of initiatives led to what you saw in the eight-year sacred defense which came into existence without having equipment, facilities and in full political-military blockade.  The defensive successful Shahid Safari Operation was a kind of this approach.


*Tell us about the formation of Shahid Safari Operation.

*In fact, Shahid Safari Operation which was carried out on 5th of November 1980 was the first defensive move of the Iranian armed forces against an enemy who had used the special conditions of the revolution’s period unexpectedly and invaded our land, occupied part of Iran, and if there was any resistance in any place, it was in fact for preventing the enemy of advancing. I myself regarded the operation as “sea guerilla operation”; because there was no special name at that time and from my viewpoint, it was regarded a sea guerilla operation. Sea guerilla was a term which did not exist until that and it does not exist even now. But in fact it’s a kind of an unconventional operation which demands its special conditions and can be highlighted in the Shahid Safari Operation. But the main characteristic of Shahid Safari Operation for registration in history was the conduct of the since the first effective defensive operation of the army of the Islamic Republic of Iran against the enemy.  The basic feature of Shahid Safari Operation – except the activities of the operation which led to this success – was that it was registered in the media. The national media that is Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting (IRIB) sent teams for different fronts. A team had come for presence in the sea arena and being informed of sea activities and accidentally, it became concurrent with the explosion of Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh strongholds.


*What were the effective grounds for planning such operation?

*The thinking of the then commander of the Combat Force 421 since the very beginning of the war and the formation of this combat forces was correct that for winning in the sea front, we had two basic strongholds ahead which were in the hands of the enemy. They were two giant oil export terminals and a very complicated collection of steel which was very fortified. Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh strongholds were located in a strategic point in Khawr Abd Allah marine channel which in fact was considered the enemy’s stronghold in the sea; a stronghold behind which the enemy was deployed and as they came out of it, they could create problems for us. If Shahid Safari and Morvardi operations did not happen, certainly, the war did not take eight years and we were not the victorious. Our communication lines had been strongly threatened by the enemy and if the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Army gave the opportunity to Iraqi Navy to expand, they prevented us from exporting oil on one hand and importing the country’s main requirements. After the fall of Khorramshahr, our only active port was Imam Khomeini Port. Let’s remember that the enemy was equipped with 12 missile boats and every boat with 4 SX missiles. If these missile launchers and missile boats could have access to the Persian Gulf area, certainly the war’s result was something else, and most probably we had to accept the enemy’s demands and the enemy would stay in the most important parts of our lands. Shahid Safari and Paykan operations were the stairs of a movement which led to the destruction of the enemy’s navy on 28th of November 1980 and the nightmare of the infiltration of the Iraqi Navy to the Persian Gulf, Khark and Imam Khomeini Port waterways.


*So, the special operation team played the main role in Shaid Safari Operation?

*Yes. Special elite forces had already been organized inside the navy commandos. They had passed necessary trainings for diving and destruction namely destructive activities under the sea and at the surface as well as guerilla activities with special methods. We used the marine commandos in Khorramshahr front too. There was another group inside this collection of the commandos named Special Boat Service (S.B.S). They were able to dive and go deep into the water and carry out explosion and destruction under the sea.  We have many destruction experts all whom have been trained during the war. But they had passed necessary trainings regarding explosion before the war broke out.


*You talked about the necessary grounds and conditions for carrying out the Shahid Safari Operation. Now tell us its planning.

*According to the collective wisdom and the commandership of Captain Mustafa Madani Nejad to which I referred before, we concluded that Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh stronghold should be destroyed. He insisted that we had to find a way for their destruction at any rate. This goal became our agenda. We asked help from the ground force for carrying out the explosions. Since our commandos had been involved in Khorramshahr battle, at first we did not know anything about the existence of such a unit. We concluded that the ground force elements have worked more on the ground and do not know the sea and are not familiar with the sea atmosphere. Thus, the atmosphere of the operation was vague for them and could not be helpful. We were disappointed. Finally, Captain Madani Nejad found the elements of this special operation team. A brave man named Captain Rahman Olfati was one of the commandos and a member of S.B.S. He was a man of war and risk and at the same time was popular among his own forces. He was simple-minded and frank. Whatever we told him in the first and second meetings, he said no problem, we would do it. There no negative thing in him and this made us stronger and were happy that our own forces could do it.


*What happened that the operation was named after Shahid Safari?

*I was involved in choosing the name Shahid (Javad) Safari Operation. When we were planning for the operation, decide to choose a name for it. I asked Rahman who was the first one from S.B.S team martyred in Khorramshahr? He said Shahid Safari, and we named Shahid Safari after the operation. At that time, I was the coordinator officer of Shahid Safari plan and a mediator between the forces and different parts. The number of forces, the amount of explosives and the needed equipment were determined by Rahman and his team. At first we thought how these elite and destruction forces could be infiltrated inside Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh strongholds quietly. This was supposed to be done one of the confiscated units of the navy. These units were the fishing boats of Lavan in which the navy had made changes. The navy had armed the fishing boats, riding their forces inside them, using them for collecting information and some special operations. Since their shape was similar to fishing boats, nobody hesitates.


*You mean fishing launches?

*No. They were steel-made fishing boats which had special cranes for throwing and dragging the net in the sea and any sailor recognized that they were fishing boats. They hid the machine gun. There was also communication device and the forces were present over the deck with plain clothes just like fishermen. At that time I was looking for a big tugboat which was at the hands of the oil ministry. These tugboats had high maneuverability and were suitable for infiltration. But it took a long time to get necessary permissions from the oil ministry to use them. So we were supposed to use the same boats and destroy Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh strongholds after planting explosives.


*How much ammunition did you need for destroying the oil terminals?

*We needed some two tons of plastic explosives which I delivered them by myself the night before the operation from the bunkers. Because whatever we did, there were a number of elements as fifth column especially the Mujahedin-e Khalq terrorists who gave the information to the enemy. Everything was hidden to avoid the enemy’s awareness from Shahid Safari operation. At around two AM and in a moonlit night, I drove toward a bunker in Bushehr by a pickup which had a personalized license plate. It had been coordinated that the commander of the bunker and a sailor to be present there. The loading was done by ourselves and they were transferred to the same fishing boat overnight. We received the commandos from Khorramshahr on the evening of the same day – November 5, 1980 –and left Bushehr to the target. We reached under the strongholds at night. We started infiltration under absolute darkness. You may have not experienced darkness, because there is always light contamination in the cities. But there are only stars in the sky in the darkness and you cannot see anything. We moved with the same fishing boat commanded by the late Farhad Grist along with 20 forces of Rahman Olfati all of whom were volunteers. But we could not dock beside the strongholds.


*Did something happen that you had not predicted?

*The recognition had been carried out well. It was something else. When you involve an operation in absolute darkness and radio silence –without any radar- everything might happen. We got caught in Al-Bakr stronghold. The power engine of Lavan's fishing boat was low and we got caught in high voltage cables. The cables were stuck to Lavan crane. We had no way. There were two tons of explosive on the unit. If turned the radar on, the enemy would notice our presence. So we were in a critical situation. In this situation, the role of the late Olafti in calming the commandos was very effective. Finally, we could get out of the cables with the intuitions of Captain Grist. We came back and tried to approach the stronghold from another angle, but the power engine was not enough. We were very worried that the operation might fail. So, we thought that the continuation of the operation could be risky. Thus, we abandoned the operation in that situation and came back. However, the Paykan missile boat commanded by martyr Mohammad Hemati was watching us from far. We came back the same path and reported our failure to the combat forces. The combat force ordered us very wisely to return to one of our place of ambush in the sea. Now it was the morning.


*What was your feeling when you came back?

*Well, at first we were worried a little, but later got our morale and strength again. We had a meeting for consultation with the deputy commander of the combat force. We gathered and tried to find a way. Martyr Hemati left us for a moment and came again and said that I am ready to carry out the same previous plan tonight. It was a blessing for me to take part in an operation in the shaping, planning and implementation of which I was present. And now the Paykan missile boat was ready to carry it out voluntarily. Payakn was an exceptional unit in terms of the personnel composition. They were volunteers for every operation.  It seemed that martyr Hemati had talked to his personnel. He had said that we want to involve in a very dangerous and probably no-return operation, and if even one of them is not coordinated with the plan, I pass up my suggestion. Apparently, no one had opposed to it. The meeting was finished and we transferred the equipment to Paykan boat and the next night, exactly in the same darkness, the plan was carried out again. We evacuated the forces in Al-Omayeh stronghold in the first phase and gave them the ammunition. Then we came back on Al-Bakr stronghold. We were evacuating the commando forces in this situation. Martyr Hemati told me quietly that I have three surface targets and have to separate from the stronghold for conflict. Paykan was in a radio silence but he turned on the radar every ten minutes in order to see the enemy's position. They saw that the three targets were approaching the strongholds very fast. It was an opportunity for the first time for me as the coordinator officer of the operation to both join the commando team and remain on the Paykan missile boat, because I had no experience of having a practical naval conflict. So I preferred to be on Paykan and experience a conflict. Paykan created a masterpiece there which cannot be said. One unit was engaged with three units. At first, it approached the targets very fast and was engaged with the artillery. One of the units was destroyed by Paykan artillery. Another one was ready to attack us that was hit by a missile and the third one which was not able to confront us, escaped the scene and Paykan followed it with high-speed but gave up to continue, because we did not have enough ammunition and had to manage it. Thus, the Paykan gave up to continue following and returned to our own waters and left it to S.B.S brave men. It took 24 hours for the explosives to be planted. The next day, Paykan returned back to the scene and evacuated the additional commando forces on the strongholds and just two or three forces remained there for turning the fuses on.    


*How did the commandos remain hidden on the strongholds for 24 hours especially in daylight?

*When the explosives are being planted on stronghold, it means that it has been seized by us and no enemy has remained. Now, the explosive circuits had been planted on the two strongholds and we were on 7th of November 1980. The strongholds had platforms for landing helicopters. According to the plan, the helicopters were ready to fly to return the remaining forces. We had predicted that two or three forces should remain for pulling the fuses out. They were time delay and slow-burning fuses. Depending on the fuse, you have five to twenty minutes time to keep out from the explosion area. It means that the commandos should run toward the place of helicopter landing. So the helicopters were supposed to land and transfer the remaining forces. On the other hand, we had predicted that what we should do if the helicopters are attacked and they cannot get into them. We had hidden two Gemini inflatable boats under every stronghold for evacuation of the forces. Now the situation for pulling the fuses out and explosion were ready. Incidentally, a TV team had come there and Madani Nejad who very qualified and experienced justified us to take the TV team. If the operation was successful, announce where we are, and if not, explain them the whole story. A helicopter landed on Al-Bakr and another one on Al-Omayeh. I landed on Al-Omayeh namely the place where Rahman Olfati was the commander of the stronghold. There was another brave S.B.S commando that I don’t remember his name. We sat there and a few minutes later the stronghold was exploded. The TV team had filmed from Al-Bakr. The loud sound of explosion along with the flames of fire and smoke had made the space nicer for us. But Rahman told me that the weather has been humid last night and the circuits has become wet. I need two hours to dehumidify my circuits. On the other hand, every moment you were expecting that the enemy attacked you from sea and air. But there was no other way. I told the helicopter’s pilots that we needed two hours. They said is it possible? We would be attacked soon. I said you could go and come back two hours later. The helicopter left the scene and I remained on the stronghold. I was going to leave the scene with the same bots we had already predicted if the helicopter did not come back. Rahman was dehumidifying the circuits and changing parts of them. Finally it was done. There was an 8-mm camera belonging to the navy and I had brought with myself and filmed the activities of the two commandos.


*Do you know where the film is now? Is it available?

*It was in intelligence unit of the navy sometime then was transferred to the ideological-political unit of the navy. I watched parts of it in TV but in general I didn’t understand what happened. At any rate, I was waiting for the helicopter to come back and finally it landed. We started pulling the fuses out. That 8-mm film shows that two commandos are doing this and I am running backwards and the film is shaking a little. But it is a historic document from what happened in Al-Omayeh stronghold. I reached the helicopter and it landed up and few moments later the explosion happened and the stronghold flared up.


*The presence of the TV team in Shahid Safari Operation was an opportunity for showing the power of the Navy of Islamic Republic of Iran’s Army in the beginning of the impose war. Now did the TV team find out what was going on there?

*Yes the TV team now knew where they were. It is interesting to know that the Al-Omayeh’s explosion was so coordinated that its explosion wave threw the cameraman inside the helicopter and was hit against the helicopter’s body. He had been sitting at the edge of the helicopter ready for filming. But as he had fallen, asked us to help him to get up to film. We helped him to get up and he continued filming. That historic film was broadcast that night. Later I heard that the morale of those who were under pressure in ground fronts or were retreating or their resistance had caused heavy casualties, had boosted by watching this film from TV. At the same time it was a message for Arab Sheikhs and the elements who were helping Iraq unknowingly or upon an order. It also dealt a heavy blow to the enemy who had found out suddenly that it could not reach Tehran within a short time as it had already predicted. The Navy and the team of Paykan missile boat, S.B.S commandos and I myself found a special status. Moreover, Madani Nejad had tested his forces practically and saw the current atmosphere and time as suitable for the next defensive plans he had designed in his mind.


*Saddam’s army announced that Iran has not harmed Al-Bakr and Al-Omayeh oil platforms. Was this just a media maneuver?

*It can be said that it was a media-political maneuver. The destruction of Al-Bakr stronghold deactivated this oil terminal. The comparison of the two explosions has been recorded and it is crystal clear. Al-Bakr was blown off in several sensitive points and Al-Omayeh burst into flames completely. At the same time, the floor of Al-Omayeh was made from railroad ties. A railroad tie is made of compressed woods which are used for railway. They had been dipped in oil materials during the years. But Al-Bakr was made from steel and cement. Thus, the kind of explosions in the two terminals was different. But what cannot be hidden and you see them in images is that the two strongholds were attacked, exploded and burnt in fire.


*Can we say that the successful operation of Shahid Safari caused you to plan for Operation Morvarid? Did you plan, recognize and implement Operation Morvarid by relying on the experience of Shahid Safari Operation?

*Exactly. In fact Operation Morvarid was a complementary of Shahid Safari Operation. We celebrated the victory for two days. And then after that the idea and planning for Operation Morvarid started, because when Shahid Safari Operation was carried out successfully, it attracted the attention of the then commanders of the navy. At any rate, Captain Madani Nejad, the Combat Force 421 and the special team of S.B.S commandos showed their ability. Rahman Olfati now had found a good status among his comrades. More importantly, here we should point to the role of Payakan missile boat and the symbol of this boat, Martyr Hemati. When the operation was carried successfully, I and martyr Hemati became closer together. We had less relation before the operation. One day he invited me to his house. Bushehr was in absolute darkness at that time. We talked together. I found out that martyr Hemati wanted something from me. He said, “You are in the special operation team and aware of the next operation. So let me know somehow. I want to take part in the operation". Well what missile boat better than Paykan and who better than Hemati. This was an encouragement for us to have a brave commander.   

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