Trump tweeted a quick, viral response.
National Security Adviser John Bolton issued a statement of support for Trump’s tweet announcement.
Soleimani’s modus operandi is to push out to lines of confrontation where he can advance Iran’s agenda, using proxies, as far from Iran as possible. He will utter threats relating to both the Strait of Hormuz and the homeland of the United States – but he will seek to make things happen where America must either back down or be drawn in, at a logistically convenient distance (both geographic and political) from Iran.
Iran’s grand flanking maneuver in 2018. Some regional political realities have shifted, but the geography of the push remains constant. Note that since 2015, Iran has arrived within a hair’s breadth of completing her land bridge to Syria. (Google map; author annotation)
Soleimani certainly didn’t need my help to think up the concept of challenging U.S. power by rattling the saber through the Houthis in the Red Sea. But the likelihood is strong that that is what’s going on. Besides the timing of the Iranians’ fit of talkativeness, the pattern of strategy is telling.
The Iranians, however, would at some point want to see other foreign shipping put at risk for maximum effectiveness. There are multiple ways to accomplish that, such as arming Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) factions holding coastline positions on the Gulf of Aden (through cut-outs if necessary), and using the Hezbollah “trainers” embedded with the Houthis for unclaimed, shoot-and-scoot attacks. Once an Iranian-sourced weapon has been used, Iran can use it again and leverage uncertainty about who actually launched the attack.