The Israeli method is like the explosion Tuesday in Beirut that killed Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader suspected of playing a role in the Oct. 7 massacre. Israel’s military declined comment on the attack, as it usually does, but Israeli leaders have said openly that, after Oct. 7, Hamas’s leaders aren’t safe anywhere in the world. Expect many more such assassinations in the months to come.
That’s also how the U.S. killed Soleimani on the orders of President Trump four years ago. Soleimani was the leader of the expeditionary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was responsible for hundreds of American deaths over many years. The U.S. had good reason to kill Soleimani, but the U.S. also wants to support the Iranian public against the dictatorial regime. Targeting civilians at a memorial service would be tactically and strategically stupid as well as immoral.
If anything, the Biden Administration has bent over backward to avoid a violent engagement with Iran. That includes only tepid military responses to attacks on U.S. soldiers or ships by Iran’s proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. That restraint has encouraged Iran and its proxies to believe they can continue to attack with impunity.
But could U.S. patience finally be running out as the Houthis in Yemen continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea? That is one way to read the joint statement Wednesday by a dozen nations, including the U.S., warning the Houthis against escalation.
“Ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” said the statement, which included Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Bahrain and several European countries as signatories. “These attacks threaten innocent lives from all over the world and constitute a significant international problem that demands collective action.” France was notably absent.
That’s the toughest U.S. language to date on the Houthi attacks, which are backed with weapons and intelligence from Iran. It also comes two weeks after the U.S. announced Operation Prosperity Guardian to safeguard merchant shipping through the Red Sea. That news hasn’t deterred the Houthis, who continue to fire missiles at ships. Iran has also dispatched a warship to the Red Sea in a show of military support for the Houthis.
The joint allied statement suggests a looming ultimatum. “Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”
It isn’t clear what the countries mean by “consequences,” and the statement notably included no mention of Iran as the fulcrum of the region’s violence. Sooner or later the U.S. and its allies will have to reestablish deterrence if they want a more stable Middle East, and that means dealing with Iran.