July 19, 2024

Biden needs to strike back hard against Houthis to protect Red Sea — and US influence

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Iran is on the offensive.

On the day after Christmas, in the space of just 10 hours, US forces in the Red Sea had to shoot down 12 suicide drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two ballistic missiles, all of them launched by the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist group in Yemen.

The Houthis are torturers whose official motto is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory to Islam.”

Subtle they aren’t.

Yet one of President Biden’s first decisions after taking office was to remove the Houthis from the official US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

You can draw a straight line from there to the threat in the Red Sea today.

Reward the bad guys for bad behavior and you get more of it.

The White House insisted it was taking the Houthis off the terror list for humanitarian reasons, but the real story is it was one of many concessions to the Houthis’ patrons in Tehran from an administration desperate to avoid trouble in the Middle East.

The predictable result was more trouble, not less.


Yemeni men carrying a model of the Houthi-hijacked ship Galaxy Leader at a protest in Sana'a, Yemen on Dec. 22, 2023.
Yemeni men carrying a model of the Houthi-hijacked ship Galaxy Leader at a protest in Sana’a, Yemen on Dec. 22, 2023. Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

If Biden wants to protect US and allied naval forces in the Red Sea while keeping its shipping lanes open, he needs to show the Houthis they will pay a heavy price for attacking the United States and its friends.

What Biden should not do is order more pinprick counterstrikes, which is how he has handled more than 100 attacks in less than three months on US troops in Syria and Iraq by Iranian proxy forces in those countries.

Pinpricks have little deterrent value, so the attacks on our troops in Syria and Iraq continue.

Rather, the president should put the Houthis back on the terror list and direct the US military to destroy substantial military assets they control.

American forces should also target any naval assets supporting Houthi attacks that belong to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the US-designated terror organization that executes Tehran’s plans for foreign aggression.

The December 26 attacks were hardly the Houthis’ first. Three days earlier, an American destroyer, the USS Laboon, shot down four drones and two anti-ship ballistic missiles launched from Houthi-controlled territory as the ship patrolled international waters in the southern Red Sea.

The same day, Houthi drones attacked two commercial vessels traveling through the area.

One of the drones hit an oil tanker, while the other was a near miss.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported in either incident.

The week before, one of the Houthis’ ballistic missiles hit a different tanker.

Brazenly, last month, the Houthis seized the cargo ship Galaxy Leader and continue to hold the ship and 25 of its crew members hostage — so Hamas is not the only kidnapper on the Iranian payroll.

These attacks are not just harassment but a well-planned campaign of economic warfare the IRGC has designed to put pressure on Israel and US-aligned Arab states.

Every ship that passes through the Suez Canal has to traverse the Red Sea, which lies just to its south.

If the US Navy loses control of these high seas, shipping costs will spike and shipping companies could refuse to dock in Israel, Egypt and other Middle Eastern ports of call.

The consequences for the global economy and international security would be severe.

BP — one of the world’s largest energy companies — announced on Dec. 18 it would temporarily pause the shipping of oil, natural gas and other energy supplies through the Red Sea due to Houthi attacks.

If the company lacks confidence in American resolve, that is understandable.

To address the Houthi threat, the United States has formed Operation Prosperity Guardian, a U.S.-led international mission to safeguard commercial vessels in the area.

The massive Danish shipping company Maersk, which had suspended travel through the Red Sea, said it plans to resume shipping once the mission begins to operate.

But this is merely playing defense.

The mission may make it harder for Houthi drones and missiles to hit their targets but imposes no price on the group for attacking in the first place.

If this is the best Biden can do, then Iran and its partners may step up attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf or Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy in Lebanon — could even attack ships in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Tehran’s goal is to destroy the Jewish state and expel America from the Middle East. Its funding, training and provision of weapons made possible Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre.

Its proxies are now escalating on every front, while Iran itself hangs back, still reaping the rewards of Biden’s policy of maximum deference.

The regime in Tehran is more than glad to fight to the last Palestinian, Yemeni, Lebanese, Iraqi and Syrian.

Its multifront war against the United States and Israel will end only when the regime itself has to pay the price for aggression.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Iran sanctioned him in 2019.



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