US Weakness Invites Iranian Attacks on Shipping in the Gulf
On Wednesday we learned that the Iranian regime has seized a second oil tanker recently in the Persian Gulf, forcing it to dock at an Iranian port under orders from the regime's "judiciary."
It was seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Go-fast boats in the Strait of Hormuz. This remains the world's most important oil transit chokepoint, according to the US Energy Information Administration, where roughly 20% of the world’s oil transits every day.
Seized tanker Niovi (YouTube screengrab, cropped)
The Pentagon subsequently informed us that these two incidents were just the latest of fifteen cases since Biden came to the White House where Iran has threatened or attacked international shipping in the Persian Gulf region.
These kind of attacks are unacceptable. The Iranians know that, and I guarantee you our enemies and adversaries know that. And yet the Iranians act with impunity. Why?
For starters, they know the current U.S. President and what he stands for. Biden has been taking money and supporting pro-Tehran regime lobbyists since at least 2002, when a group of Tehran-supporters threw a fund-raiser for him in California that brought in $30,000.
From then on, Biden became a reliable vote (along with Senator Chuck Hagel) when it came to opposing sanctions on Iran. He railed against President George W. Bush and his "axis of evil" because it included the Iranian regime.
Since becoming president, he has tried hard to re-invigorate the bad Iran nuclear deal, a deal that not only gave Iran a date certain to become a nuclear weapons state with impunity, but lifted all sanctions on the regime's ballistic missile programs as well.
Just think how many people in Israel, Ukraine, Yemen, and Iraq -- including US soldiers and contractors -- have been victims of those missiles since 2015.
One reason the Iranians may have chosen the Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker, as their latest target was specifically to embarrass the United States. Over the past year, the Treasury Department has sanctioned over one hundred Iranian-owned ships laundered through various owners and reflagged in Panama.
The Panamanian government responded in January by de-flagging 136 Iranian vessels. So hitting a Panamanian-registered vessel was payback by Iran to Panama, as well as an embarrassment to the U.S.
In the days when America still commanded a 600-ship navy, we would have sailed an aircraft carrier -- or even two -- through the Strait of Hormuz to put the Iranians on notice.
Not today. We used to have sixteen carrier battle groups; today, we have just eleven carriers still in service. Of those eleven, eight are in dry dock or on extended home port duty in San Diego or Norfolk, VA.
Only two are actively deployed, and both of them are in Asia. (The USS George Washington is off the west coast of Australia, and the USS Nimitz is off Thailand). A third, the USS Ronald Reagan, is idling off the coast of Japan under "Restricted Availability."
When the United States shows weakness, it creates vulnerability. Weakness invites attack.
There are only two ways to respond to Iranian regime aggression: forceful military action, and by empowering the Iranian pro-democracy movement.
In 1988, after a spate of similar maritime piracy incidents (including the mining of international sea lanes), President Reagan ordered Operation Praying Mantis on April 18, 1988, the fifth anniversary of the Iranian suicide bomber attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
In roughly twenty-four hours, U.S. forces sank one-third of the Iranian navy. Iran didn't dare attack us again openly until 2004-2005 in Iraq, and even then, they initially acted through proxies. (They also acted through proxies -- al Qaeda -- in attacking U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, the USS Cole in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks in 2001).
Fast forward to New Year's Eve 2020. Iranian-backed militiamen stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the final days of 2019. President Trump responded immediately by redeploying hundreds of U.S. Marines from Kuwait to protect the embassy in Baghdad, to prevent another Benghazi from occurring.
And when he learned that the initial attack on the embassy was just the beginning, and that Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was flying into Baghdad to supervise the next wave of attacks, President Trump ordered him taken out.
Iran responded by launching a half-dozen missiles on the al-Asad air base in Iraq, after warning the base commander so troops could take cover. And while regime officials including Ayatollah Khamenei have claimed they intend to assassinate President Trump and other U.S. leaders in retaliation, until now they have been unable to do so. To date, Iran has not found a successor with anywhere near the charisma, contacts, and capabilities.
The United States has never taken vigorous action to empower the pro-democracy forces inside Iran. Voice of America and Radio Farda have paid lip service only to anti-regime protests, and Biden administration officials have lashed out at the regime's cruel repression with diplomatic wet noodles.
I have no expectation the Biden regime will change its approach. But how long will it take for Congress to start demanding accounting of the administration?
Here's my suggestion for an opening salvo: what kickbacks did U.S. government officials eventually receive from Iran for the $1.7 billion in cash Obama sent to Tehran in 2016?
Ken Timmerman’s 12th book of non-fiction, And the Rest is History: Tales of Hostages, Arms Dealers, Dirty Tricks, and Spies, was published by Post Hill Press in August 2022. Timmerman was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and has covered the Middle East for 40 years.