Well, that didn’t take long.
One multi-missile event is a data point. Two missile attacks in four days is a trend.
There shouldn’t be any question now that U.S. warships are being targeted by Houthi rebels firing antiship missiles.
A U.S. Navy destroyer was targeted on Wednesday in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the second such incident in four days, the U.S. military said.
The USS Mason fired defensive salvos in response to at least one missile which did not hit the ship or caused any damage as it operated north of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the Pentagon said. Indications are that the second salvo brought down an incoming missile, one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
So it appears that this most recent event, on 12 October, involved an attack by one missile, which Mason engaged and shot down using defensive missiles.
A couple of quick-look observations as the moving finger writes.
1. This second event strongly suggests that the Navy units being attacked are not being allowed to exercise properly robust rules of engagement on-scene. (If we hear in the next 24 hours about a counterstrike, this point is partially moot. But not entirely. The on-scene commanders should have the discretion the standing ROE entitle them to.)
After the missile attacks on Sunday (9 October), it is a virtual certainty that we had better tactical intelligence on the missile attack on 12 October. Our forces were alerted by the Sunday incident, and we would have had more assets engaged in focused surveillance. It’s a good bet we had a better picture this time of where the missile came from — and therefore the ability to strike back on a tactical level.
It’s more probable now that our commanders on-scene are being restrained from responding, as opposed to not having the targeting intelligence to respond.
That’s disgusting — politically weak, courting danger to our sailors (and indeed our service members everywhere) — in case it needs saying.
2. The continuation of this trend has to implicate Iran. The Houthis have no native reason to want to systematically harass U.S. forces or draw us into the fight.
As noted in my post update earlier, Congress is already on the warpath about the Iran link. The thing about the Iran connection is that, although it makes a counter-move harder to outline, it also makes such a counter-move more essential.
It might be possible to stymie Iran for a short period by discouraging the Houthis from doing this again. There is a limit to what Iran can induce them to do, if they risk an undesirable level of retaliation.
It’s also possible, of course, that if the Houthis won’t do it, Iran will get Hezbollah to do it, or have Iran’s own Qods Force commandos do it from Houthi-held territory. There’s not much the Houthis could do about that, over a period between now and the inauguration of a new U.S. president.
That would be excruciating. In no case is it a good idea to get into a low-level exchange of proxy jabs with Iran. This scenario is actually far more Vietnam-like than the involvement of Russia and Iran in Syria, which the Obama State Department has been so helpfully warning about.
The core problem is the assumption we can make that Obama wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran at all costs. It would be possible to deter Iran, in a way that would prevent Iran from escalating the situation. But Obama doesn’t see that as a solution. He fears it as an escalatory action on his part.
Meanwhile, note this informative sequence. On Friday, 7 October, Obama significantly eased U.S. Treasury sanctions on Iran’s ability to trade using U.S. dollars — a move for which there was no conceivable justification, in terms of proximate good behavior by Iran or in any other way. (And OBTW, it violated his promises to Congress made in 2015, during negotiations over the JCPOA.)
Two days later, Iran’s Houthi clients launched missiles at U.S. warships near the Bab El-Mandeb Strait. Three days after that, the Houthis launched another missile at our warships.
If you’re not sensing a pattern here, don’t worry. Iran is.