If Not Iran, Then Who?
Thursday saw two more oil tankers attacked in the the Middle East, this time in the Gulf of Oman. Initial estimates by the U.S. military pointed the finger at Iran and later released a video that claimed to show Iranian personal removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the tankers in an attempt to cover their tracks.
Iran was obviously the likely perpetrator. The four sabotaged tankers in May, their proxies recently launching a missile that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and a Houthi attack on a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, would make Thursday’s episode fit in with a pattern of increasingly aggressive behavior.
Still, some were not convinced. These included the usual conspiracy theorists that had “Gulf of Tonkin” trending on Twitter and who were raving about “false flags” while posting memes of Colin Powell at the UN holding up a model viral of anthrax.
There was also the “wait and see” crowd, that included German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass who said, “ The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.” Massachusetts Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said, “ I want to see whatever evidence the administration says that it has.” Former Obama Deputy National Security Advisor Ben “Echo Chamber” Rhodes quote tweeted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement to the press, saying “ This definitely feels like the kind of incident where you’d want an international investigation to establish what happened. Huge risk of escalation.”
The tweet from Rhodes was telling. President Trump’s critics have spent a good portion of his presidency, rightfully criticizing him for siding with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un over his own intelligence agencies, but for some reason when it comes to Javid Zaraf’s talking points, the left has repeated them uncritically in order to save their precious nuclear deal that was sold and continues to be sold under a false deal or war dichotomy. Speaking of Putin, the Iran deal made a Russo-Iranian alliance possible that is now giving the U.S. and our allies all sorts of problems in Syria, but I digress.
But while this crowd thinks they are being prudent and stopping the rush to war, no matter how many times Trump and Pompeo say regime change is not Administration policy, they are actually just doing what they claim to loathe about Trump: repeating propaganda from a hostile regime, because if it isn’t Iran or some Iranian proxy, there only two others options:
- It is just a coincide that six tankers have been damaged since the middle of May in a way that suggests they were mined.
- It is a false flag operation
Nobody can seriously believe number one. Ships transit the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman daily without problems, so the idea that six of them would spontaneously combust is just silly.
The people who hold that this was a false flag meant to provoke a war have no evidence to support their claim. There is a zero percent chance that in its current domestic political and security environment that Israel was behind the attacks. Their is less than a zero percent chance the U.S. was behind it, given just how much antipathy the U.S. bureaucracy has for Trump and the ideas of someone like John Bolton. The conspiracy theorists have no evidence too suggest that Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates was behind the attacks. Their only “proof” that this was a false flag meant to ignite a war is to try to rehash the run up to the Iraq War.
So, why would Iran attack two oil tankers, one of which was Japanese, while the Japanese Prime Minister was in Tehran? For starters, because there are no moderates in Tehran, or at least not in the government. The moderate versus hardliner debate is mostly a figment of Western imagination. Nobody gets to be President of Iran unless the Ayatollah lets you. Secondly, Iran is testing Trump to see just how much they can get away with.
Despite the claims that Trump’s aggressive stance towards Iran could lead to a war, the opposite is true. Bret Stephens and Mark Dubowitz are correct, if the U.S. response to the two tanker attacks is weak and timid than Trump will have been exposed as a “Twitter tiger” who is all talk and no walk. Which is why the U.S. needs a strong response to the attacks. Not an offensive military response, but one with strong defensive characteristics should not be ruled out. If war with Iran, or even Praying Mantis 2.0, happens, it won’t come because Trump has too aggressive with Iran, but because Iran views him as weak and keeps pushing the envelope and eventually crosses some line that even the man who campaigned on ending “dumb” and “stupid” wars will be forced to respond in a more forceful manner.