So, now we know. When, Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Iranian Majles
(its parliament) says, “The situation will change if Iran cannot sell oil
,” the Tehran regime really means it.
When Major General Hossein Salami, the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), says, “We are in a full intelligence war with the United States and the enemies of the Islamic Republic…psychological warfare, cyber operations, military operations, diplomacy, fear and intimidation,” we probably ought to listen.
Until the morning of Thursday June 20, 2019, the Iranian regime had targeted oil tankers belonging to Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran’s terror proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, were blamed for a mid-May 2019 drone attack against a Saudi oil pipeline and a June 12, 2019, missile attack against a Saudi airport arrival hall that injured some 26 people.
But then in the early morning hours of June 20, the Iranians shot down an unmanned U.S. BAMS-D strategic surveillance drone — and admitted it, asserting implausibly that they determined it was flying in Iranian air space. The U.S. insists that the drone was flying over international air space near the Strait of Hormuz when an Iranian missile shot it down.
This act of war by the Iranian regime directly against an American aircraft changes the calculus and ratchets up tensions in the Persian Gulf region significantly.
Stern warnings from U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an increased U.S. military presence in the region were appropriate when it was allied assets being attacked and the free flow of international shipping threatened. The use of limpet mines to attack shipping passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz certainly raised the stakes; but now that the Tehran regime has admitted it targeted and downed an American aircraft, another sort of response is required. Quickly.
It is critical for the sake of deterrence against any further Iranian aggression that the U.S. response be executed within the next 24 hours and that it be proportional but hard.
The most obvious — and proportional — target for a U.S. retaliatory strike would be the IRGC’s military bases from which both the air and naval attacks against the U.S. drone as well as allied shipping originated. Note that under international law, ‘proportional’ does not mean strictly a tit-for-tat strike that targets only those enemy assets directly involved in the original attack. It means proportional to the magnitude of the threat posed to the aggrieved side.
With that in mind, a stronger U.S. response could target other IRGC or Qods Force military assets, including bases, logistics centers, and staging sites. The U.S. must insist on maintaining escalation dominance in order to impress upon the Iranian regime that any additional belligerent actions will result in unacceptable losses to that regime’s most important assets, military and otherwise.
It will be important, as well, for the Trump administration to seek the cooperation of allies, both those targeted by Iran and other regional partners in Iran’s crosshairs.
However the Trump national security team decides, for maximum effectiveness, the response must be swift and sure. Should even that not suffice, though, it is critical that the White House, National Security Council, and Departments of Defense and State all communicate in sync with one another to convey in no uncertain terms that the Iranian regime will face catastrophic consequences if its regional aggression does not stop.
Clare M. Lopez is VP for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy. Previously a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a member of Board of Advisors for Canadian Mackenzie Institute, she was named to Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign national security advisory team in 2016. Lopez served with Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi and now its successor, Citizens’ Commission on National Security. Formerly VP of Intelligence Summit, she was a career operations officer with Central Intelligence Agency, professor at Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee from 2005-2006. Lopez received a B.A. in Communications and French from Notre Dame College of Ohio and an M.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She completed Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, VA, before declining a military commission to join the CIA. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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