Operation Praying Mantis was a little known military incursion by the United States against Iran in 1988. The circumstances that lead up to Operation Praying Mantis grew out of the bitter Iran-Iraq War. Iran had become increasingly aggressive in the northern Persian Gulf in an effort to hamper Iraq’s oil trade. As the war turned into a bloody stalemate, Iranian forces began harassing and attacking neutral shipping in the area. On October 19, 1987, an Iranian missile attack on a Kuwaiti supertanker prompted a mild military response from the United States. US warships shelled command and control oil platforms in the Arabian Gulf. Tensions did not recede however, and a US military build-up in the Gulf was initiated. US warships were assigned to protect convoys of merchant ships passing through the Persian Gulf.

Tensions came to a head on April 14, 1988. On that day, the USS Samuel B. Roberts sighted three mines floating approximately one-half mile from the ship. Twenty minutes after the first sighting, as the Samuel B. Roberts was backing clear of the minefield, she struck a submerged mine. The resulting explosion ripped a 30 by 23 foot hole in its hull and injured ten sailors. Only after a seven-hour struggle was the crew able to save the ship from sinking. The Samuel B. Roberts was sent back to the United States for repair.

The United States’ response was Operation Praying Mantis which began on April 18, 1988. The USS Simpson, USS Wainwright, and USS Bagley attacked the Iranian frigate Sahalan and oil platforms in the Sirri and Sassan oil fields. The Iranian Navy missile patrol combatant Joshan approached the three U.S. ships. When the Joshan was warned to stand clear, she responded by firing a Harpoon missile at the group. Chaff was able to divert the missile and the USS Simpson was the first ship to return fire, striking Joshan with a missile of her own. After the Joshan was disabled by missile fire, she was sunk by gunfire. Special forces operating from the USS Trenton boarded and secured another oil platform used to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping. SEALs next secured the Iranian minelayer ship Ajar after it was disabled by US Helos helicopter gunship fire. After valuable documents incriminating Iran in attacks in the Persian Gulf were seized, explosive charges were placed on Ajar and it was sunk shortly there after. After the two days of fighting, Operation Praying Mantis was deemed a success and hostilities ended.

The immediate result of Operation Praying Mantis was the destruction of three Iranian warships, two command and control oil platforms, and at least six combatant speedboats. Iranian military presence in the Gulf was shattered and the US emerged as the clear dominant force in the waterway. Operation Praying Mantis also directly influenced the course of the Iran-Iraq War. The incidents sullied Iran’s international reputation considerably, making it difficult for Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khomeini to obtain arms. In July 1988, despite Khomeini’s desires for total victory, Iran was forced to accept a United Nations–mandated cease-fire effectively ending the Iran-Iraq War.