On Wednesday, National Security Advisor Mike Flynn discussed recent actions by Iran which violated international agreements and threatened U.S. and allied interests. In doing so, he warned Iran to cease from such behavior, saying that the U.S. was “putting Iran on notice.”
Flynn’s response was provoked by two recent events.
On Sunday, Iran conducted a ballistic missile test. The U.S. claims that this test violates U.N. Resolution 2231, which prohibits Iran from testing missiles which are “designed” for carrying nuclear warheads. Iran, however, claims that the missile it tested is not “designed” as such, and thus they did not violate the U.N. Resolution. Iran is attempting to thread the semantic needle here: it may be that the missile was not “designed” to carry a nuclear warhead, but it may be “capable” of doing so. In fact, the type of missile they launched is of a recent design, and not much is known about its specifications.
On Monday, Houthi militants based in Yemen carried out a suicide boat attack upon a Saudi naval vessel in the Red Sea. This is the latest in a series of attacks by the Houthis against ships from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Tuesday attack may also have been intended for a U.S. naval vessel, rather than a Saudi vessel (U.S. intelligence services think that the Houthis mistook the Saudi ship for a U.S. one). The Houthis are an Islamist extremist group in Yemen who are financed and armed by Iran. Fun fact: the moto on their flag reads: “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.”
Thus, these two incidents are the latest in a long line of Iranian attempts to test the resolve of the United States in countering Iran’s regional ambitions. During the Obama administration, the U.S. did nothing in response to Iran’s provocations, even when Iran captured and paraded U.S. Navy sailors before the cameras, attempting to humiliate them.
Calling attention to the problem of Iran’s actions, Flynn said:
The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East which places American lives at risk. President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration as well as the United Nations as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today we are officially putting Iran on notice.
It is unclear what the U.S. will do should Iran continue down this path. Perhaps part of the warming of relations between the U.S. and Russia will be Russia’s assistance in helping to reign in Iran, as I’ve previously speculated here. It’s hard to see how a belligerent Iran is in Russia’s best interests, since that would threaten Russian commercial dealings in Iran. The alternative would be for the U.S. to work to re-impose sanctions on Iran and consider military responses against their aggression.
The U.S. could also increase its military presence in Yemen to counter the Houthis. This would serve to placate Saudi Arabia, which feels threatened by Iran and the instability in Yemen (as do the other Arab states). In fact, the U.S. is already conducting strikes in Yemen (including the raid last Saturday which went bad).
The point remains, however: should Iran continue to attack the ships of U.S. allies (by proxy with the Houthis) and launch ballistic missiles, it will force the Trump administration into either backing up its harsh words with actions or backing down and further emboldening Iran.