The Obama Administration keeps stretching the limits of the nuclear deal with Iran to provide the type of sanctions relief the mullahs believe they are owed, no matter what the deal says. So what better way to repay White House’s generosity than by firing on U.S. ships?
That’s one way to understand Sunday’s incident off the coast of Yemen, when the USS Mason, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Ponce, an amphibious ship, were attacked by two Chinese-built C-802 cruise missiles fired from territory controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi militia. Iran is a major operator of the C-802; its proxy Hezbollah used it in 2006 to punch a hole in an Israeli corvette off the coast of Lebanon.
On Sunday neither missile hit its target, though the USS Mason launched SM-2 air-defense missiles to defend against the threat. The episode could have ended differently: Last week the Houthis scored a direct hit on the HSV Swift, an unarmed transport shift used by the United Arab Emirates to resupply the Saudi-led military coalition that has been fighting the Houthis for 18 months.
The U.S. contributes limited intelligence support to that coalition, part of a grudging effort by the Administration to reassure Riyadh that the U.S.-Saudi alliance could survive the nuclear deal. Tehran would dearly like to dissolve that 71-year alliance, which also has been frayed by Saudi targeting mistakes that have resulted in major civilian casualties. It’s probably no coincidence that Sunday’s attacks on the U.S. ships came a day after a Saudi air strike mistakenly killed more than 140 mourners at a funeral in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a.
That attack is a tragedy, but the Administration should remember that the U.S. military has committed similar errors before it cuts Riyadh loose. If the U.S. is uncomfortable with Saudi Arabia as a friend, it will find even less to like should the kingdom ever become an enemy.
More significantly, the attack on the Navy ships—with hundreds of American sailors aboard—is another reminder that the nuclear deal has done more to embolden than moderate Tehran’s ambitions, despite a cascade of U.S. concessions.