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Rubio Attributes Tanker Attacks to Iran, Says Military Response Is One Option among Many

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, January 9, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On an NRPlus conference call Friday morning, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) expressed strong confidence that Iran was responsible for Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman:

I don’t think there’s any doubt. In fact, there is no doubt. First off, common sense tells you that — to run a boat out to one of these enormous vessels out in the middle of the Gulf, attach a mine to the side of it, blow a hole in it, and then be able to come back and retrieve a mine that didn’t go off in order to erase the evidence — I mean, there’s just no other force in the region with the capability to do that… There should be zero doubt in people’s minds. People can debate about what to do about it, but there should not be any debate that this was the IRGC’s Navy.

Rubio went on to suggest that the attack might be meant to influence future negotiations in favor of Iranian interests:

I think they made this decision a while back that they needed to create leverage and pressure. They’re being circled as it is. . . They’re having major troubles with their economy. And they know that eventually there’s going to have to be a negotiation involving the United States, but they want to be able to go into it from a position of strength. And so, what they have done over the years is they have developed a capability, both through the Quds Force, which is a clandestine, covert service of the IRGC, and then the standing up and propping of surrogates in the region, they have created this capability of attacking the US and attacking their adversaries in the region with a level of deniability. So it allows their foreign minister to say, “It wasn’t us,” but their adversaries know it was them. It creates pressure that they hope will give them some leverage and strength. . . going into any future negotiations, so that is what this really is about.

He said that a military response against Iran is an option, but that it is only one among many and would need to be considered carefully:

Obviously, we need to be postured, if we see an imminent attack, to respond to it. . . If our personnel come under attack, there needs to be a swift and strong response to that, and I’m confident there would be. Iran needs to know not only that they’re going to be held responsible for these attacks, but that there’s going to be a price to pay for them. . . Iran needs to know that this is not going to work, that these deniable attacks are not going to work. I think we need to message to them upfront what the response will be like if they attack us. I think they are very capable of working with the Taliban to carry out attacks against the U.S. by providing them weaponry that’s more sophisticated than what they possess today. . . It’s a very delicate escalation balance here, but I don’t think anyone is calling for a full-scale invasion of Iran. But I do think that a military response to this attack is an option before the president. I think a lot of it would depend, obviously, on how good those options are, what are our chances of success. . . But most certainly, if they’re going to use force, a forceful response needs to be among the options that we have, so long as it’s a good option that would achieve its objective.

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