If Iran wonít change its behavior, we should sink its
The New York Times
By: Bret Stephens
June 14, 2019
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.
thatís changed. Iranís piratical regime is back yet again to its piratical
so it seems, based on on two tankers in the Gulf
of Oman provided by the U.S. Central Command, including of
one of Iranís Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats
removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the damaged tankers.
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.
this case, however, the evidence against Iran is compelling. CentComís account
notes that ďa 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,Ē 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
isnít. There 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 isnít the likely culprit, or that its actions donít represent a
major escalation in the region.
most likely explanation was offered by Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for
Defense of Democracies, who suggested that Iranís purpose was ďto
demonstrate that Trump is a Twitter Tiger.Ē
not a bad guess. The Iranians know that vainglory and timidity often go hand in
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 werenít
worth it. Heís delivered similar toward
Tehran. Driving a crisis in the Middle East so that the U.S. president can
ďsolveĒ it with a fresh nuclear deal on even easier terms than Obamaís
would be a canny Iranian gambit.
brings us to the consequential question: Whatís the proper U.S. response?
canít 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 isnít an option.
is appropriate is a new set of rules ó 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.
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.
wants a war with Iran. But not wanting a war does not mean remaining supine in
the face of its outrages. We sank Iranís navy before. Tehran should be put on
notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.