July 17, 2019

Opinion | The Pirates of Tehran

Opinion | The Pirates of Tehran


On April 14, 1988, the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts, a frigate, hit an Iranian naval mine while sailing in the Persian Gulf. The explosion injured 10 of her crew and nearly sank the ship. Four days later, the U.S. Navy destroyed half the Iranian fleet in a matter of hours. Iran did not molest the Navy or international shipping for many years thereafter.

Now that’s changed. Iran’s piratical regime is back yet again to its piratical ways.

Or so it seems, based on a detailed timeline of Thursday’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman provided by the U.S. Central Command, including a surveillance video of one of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the damaged tankers.

The Iranians categorically deny responsibility. And the Trump administration has credibility issues, to put it mildly, which is one reason why electing a compulsive prevaricator to the presidency is dangerous to national security.

In this case, however, the evidence against Iran is compelling. CentCom’s account notes that “a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair,” one of the damaged tankers. The Iranian boats are familiar to the U.S. Navy after decades of observing them at close range. And staging deniable attacks that fall just below the threshold of open warfare on the U.S. is an Iranian specialty.

Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t. There are lingering questions about the types of munitions that hit the ships, and time should be given for a thorough investigation. But it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit, or that its actions don’t represent a major escalation in the region.

That raises two questions, one minor, the other much more consequential.

The minor question is why the Iranians did it. There has been a pattern of heightened Iranian aggression for nearly two months, including highly sophisticated attacks on four oil tankers near the Emirati port of Fujairah on May 12.

This might be seen as a response to the resumption of major U.S. sanctions, which have had a punishing effect on Iran’s economy. Except that Tehran did nothing to moderate its behavior after the nuclear deal was signed, and most sanctions were lifted, in 2016.

It might also be seen as an effort by regime hard-liners to sabotage the possibility of a resumption of nuclear negotiations. It’s hard to believe it was just a coincidence that the attacks on the ships, one of which was Japanese, coincided with the visit to Tehran by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Then again, the I.R.G.C. was a major economic beneficiary of the nuclear deal, so it’s not exactly clear why it would want to stop a new one.

The most likely explanation was offered by Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who suggested that Iran’s purpose was “to demonstrate that Trump is a Twitter Tiger.”

It’s not a bad guess. The Iranians know that vainglory and timidity often go hand in hand.

Trump went from apocalyptic to smitten with Kim Jong-un in a matter of weeks after concluding that the risks of a confrontation with North Korea just weren’t worth it. He’s delivered similar mixed messages toward Tehran. Driving a crisis in the Middle East so that the U.S. president can “solve” it with a fresh nuclear deal on even easier terms than Obama’s would be a canny Iranian gambit.

Which brings us to the consequential question: What’s the proper U.S. response?

It can’t be the usual Trumpian cycle of bluster and concession. Neither can it be the liberal counsel of feckless condemnation followed by inaction. Firing on unarmed ships in international waters is a direct assault on the rules-based international order in which liberals claim to believe. To allow it to go unpunished isn’t an option.

What is appropriate is a new set of rules — with swift consequences if Iran chooses to break them. The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships or fast boats that harass or threaten any ship, military or commercial, operating in international waters. If Tehran fails to comply, the U.S. should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port.

If after that Iran still fails to comply, we would be right to sink its navy, in port or at sea. The world cannot tolerate freelance Somali pirates. Much less should it tolerate a pirate state seeking to hold the global economy hostage through multiplying acts of economic terrorism.

Nobody wants a war with Iran. But not wanting a war does not mean remaining supine in the face of its outrages. We sank Iran’s navy before. Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.





Source link

About The Author

Related posts