The US Navy destroyer and three commercial vessels were attacked by Iran’s terror group in Yemen. President Biden needs to recognize that Iran is attacking Americans and American allies. The latest escalation against the USS Carney and three other ships, one British-owned, is not an isolated incident. Iran is the leading threat to freedom of navigation in the Middle East, with at least 26 harassments, attacks, or seizures between January 2021 and July 2023.
The Yemen-based Houthis, a terrorist ally of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have launched numerous attacks, including a drone attack against an Israeli-linked cargo ship and firing ballistic missiles near an American destroyer, the USS Mason. They have also seized a Japanese-operated cargo ship in the Red Sea and launched missile and drone attacks toward southern Israel.
Iran has directed 74 attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17, leaving dozens of US service members injured and one contractor dead. President Biden has deployed two carrier strike groups to the region in an attempt to deter Iran’s regional escalation, but Tehran has been unimpressed.
Biden and his European allies allowed the United Nations missile embargo on Iran to expire, fearing Iran’s response. Biden issued a sanctions waiver giving Iran access to $10 billion previously held in Iraq and has provided $6 billion in ransom payment and $30 billion in oil revenue through nonenforcement of sanctions. He has also refused to add the Houthis back to the official US terror list, and Iran is increasing its production of high-enriched uranium while stonewalling inspectors.
Biden’s strategy must change. Refreezing all cash made available to Iran over the last few months and cracking down on Iranian oil shipments to China are the easy first steps. The reestablishment of US military deterrence is also necessary to defend against any attempt by Iran to retaliate. By striking Iranian and Houthi targets, Biden would advance the cause of Middle East peace.
Whatever Biden does next, he must internalize one simple truth: Tehran will keep attacking Americans and US allies unless and until he flashes American steel. Mark Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser. Both are sanctioned by Iran.
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