We will see what the U.S. intelligence community can find and share with the eyes of the world, but for now it seems really unlikely that the Houthis pulled off an attack that shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production all by themselves. Since 2009, Iran has supplied the Houthis with intelligence, arms shipments like rockets, explosives, mines, and training to use all of those weapons. Earlier this year, the United Nations found that Iran was secretly shipping fuel to Yemen to be sold to generate cash to finance the Houthi war effort.
If the U.S. finds conclusive evidence that the Iranian regime did this, the United States has four options that range from bad to risky.
One: Do nothing and hope that Iran is so impressed by our restraint that they decide to behave less confrontationally.
Two: Pay the Dane-geld! France is offering a $15 billion loan to the Iranian regime to offset the impact of the sanctions. We could sign on to that and hope that the Iranian mullahs are willing to be bribed into better behavior. Of course, if it doesn’t work, we will have just given someone who hates us access to another $15 billion to use to fund efforts against us.
Three: Let the Saudi military respond to the Iranians. These are the same guys who are fighting in Yemen and who bombed a school bus, bombed a prison, bombed a crowded funeral, who keep hitting water facilities, port infrastructure, and medical facilities in airstrikes, block humanitarian aid, and who accidentally let al-Qaeda-linked militias get U.S.-made weapons. No way the Saudi military could botch the response to this one, right? No way that would escalate the conflict even more.
For what it’s worth, Paul Miller of the Atlantic Council argues this is the appropriate move for the United States: “Maybe here ‘leadership’ means letting the Saudis do their own dirty work, learning to provide their own security, and seeing the cost of their own poor choices.”
Four: Have the Pentagon take the lead in any military retaliation against Iran, and control the proportionality and targeting of the response. For example, in 1988, after the Iranian military laid mines in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy destroyed two Iranian offshore oil rigs and sank six Iranian naval vessels. Of course, there’s always the chance that the Iranians may see this as an unacceptable provocation — never mind that they hit first — and attempt to hit the United States more directly.
I suppose there’s a fifth option, depending upon the opportunities and U.S. abilities: for something important to the Iranian regime to blow up under mysterious circumstances again, and for President Trump to announce to the world that the United States has no idea how that happened.