Before 1947, all American military aid to Iran had been of a technical and advisory nature. There had been two major missions:
- the US Mission to the Iranian Gendarmerie (GENMISH)
- the US Mission to the Iranian Army (ARMISH).
Of the two, GENMISH was the more important since it allowed its head, Brigadier General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, to exercise executive control over an internal security force of more than 20,000 men.
In addition to these two primary groups, the State Department’s International Cooperation Administration (ICA) had also provided a team which developed a detailed reorganization plan for the National Police that was gradually implemented with American assistance.
US advice and training were also important in the formation of a new intelligence network, SAVAK, which was designed to monitor and combat both domestic and foreign threats to the shah’s rule. The shah rejected a US recommendation that he establish separate domestic and foreign intelligence activities.
In spite of Iran’s close proximity to the Soviet Union, there was a continuing reluctance on the part of the US to send further arms to the country. While Iran had earlier been granted a $25 million arms credit, the US believed that “given Iran’s poverty, unstable politics, and backward army (which needed only to be strong enough to maintain internal security), “large-scale military build-up was unjustifiable.” Still, beginning in 1947, Iran did begin to acquire some American military equipment.
In 1949, the US announced that some $12 million in aid would be available under a Military Defense Assistance Program.
In response, the shah submitted a request for $175 million, announcing that he wanted enough equipment to supply 200,000 men, 80,000 more than were then in place. When, by the end of 1949, agreement was finally reached on $10.7 million, it was obvious to all that Iranian and American views on military assistance remained far apart.
The shah wanted to expand his army and acquire sophisticated military equipment, including jets. The US, on the other hand, saw no role for Iran in opposing a Soviet advance. In the words of America’s ambassador to Iran:
No on imagines that now or in future Iranian Army could prevent Soviet invasion. As we understand it, object of MAP from military point of view is to insure internal security and to increase cost of invasion in terms of personnel and time required, and possible to maintain with tribal assistance some form of prolonged resistance particularly in southern mountains.
The US wanted to limit equipment to what the Iranians could actually use, and urged more efficient employment of American advisers rather than additional acquisitions.
In May 1950, the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) were established.
MAAG became, in time, the most important US military mission to Iran, facilitating extensive military and paramilitary command structures and participating in commercial as well as governmental arms sales.
Thomas Ricks argues that:
From 1953 to 1979, MAAG became involved in every branch of Iran’s military and police forces and affected nearly every facet of Iran’s economy.
He goes on to say:
The importance of MAAG rested on its function of providing technical advice on new arms purchases, new training projects and related equipment maintenance programs as prescribed by expanding US military and economic assistance . . . . MAAG’s tasks were tied to a new form of military aid, that is, to the military ‘grant’ based on Iran’s natural resources primarily oil . . . . MAAG was from the outset a part of a long-term military sales program involving training and maintenance of increasingly sophisticated weaponry in defense of NATO interests as well as those of the United States and Iran. The military assistance program which MAAG administered, moreover, was possible only in exchange for Iran’s raw materials and semi-processed goods.