Meanwhile, Iranian-backed rebels fire on U.S. warship


USS Mason, which was fired upon by Houthi rebels.

While the rest of us are busy listening to a tacky, self-absorbed huckster conjugating the verb “to f___,” there are real things going on out in the real world.

Leave it to our own Lindsey Graham to notice:


Here’s a news story on the subject.

44 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Iranian-backed rebels fire on U.S. warship

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In Jack Aubrey’s day, the Admiralty would have just sent Jack — in the Surprise, or maybe, in this case, as commodore of a small squadron (a couple of ships of the line, a couple of frigates, and a couple of sloops for running errands)– to DEAL with the matter as he sees fit. There would be some language in his sealed orders about consulting with Dr. Maturin in political matters, but beyond that, he would just have to use his best judgment.

      And we’d find out six months or a year later what happened…

    2. Bryan Caskey

      I am. Had both the five and two year old to corral on my own after work today. Finally getting them settled down.

      I’m sure our Commander in Chief will send a sternly worded letter that condemns this attack.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        When was the last time a navy vessel fired munitions in active defense? Desert Storm 1 against Scuds?

        Glad our sailors are safe. As the missiles originated from Iran’s proxy, my first thought is this was their testing and probing of our capabilities for anything Iran might try near Hormuz in the future.

  1. Mark Stewart

    So who do we bomb in retaliation? Those who are already being bombed daily by the Sunnis in Yemen, or the Iranians who supplied the missiles?

    I like Obama in general and certainly as a leader, but as a strategic geopolitical thinker – and actor – he doesn’t get TR’s maxim about quietly hefting the big stick. I’m not sure this is one of those times for direct action, but maybe it’s time to board, document and sink one or more of those Iranian freighters. Maybe.

  2. Mark Stewart

    I see that this afternoon the Navy has said the destroyer launched two SM-2s and an ESSM short range missile at the two incoming cruise missiles. They aren’t saying if either was hit by the anti-air weapons, or lured away by electronic counter-measures.

    This is pretty serious stuff. Iranian stuff…

      1. Mark Stewart

        Look no further than the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

        We have long labeled them a terror organization.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Yeah. Two possible theories come to mind:

          1. The Iranian backed rebels have the tacit approval from Iran to just take pot-shots at targets of opportunity. (Most likely)

          2. Iran is methodically and deliberately having the rebels fire on our ships to gauge our defensive abilities with an eye to a future potential conflict.

          Either way, Iran can say “Hey, it’s not us, it’s the rebels.” so they have some plausible deniability. I don’t think Iran wants us to get too directly involved in the Yemen. I think Iran wants to be dangerous enough to Saudi Arabia, but not so brazen as to require us to step in. Given the current POTUS, they can be pretty aggressive without fear of any real US intervention.

          The fact that *two* missiles were fired leads me to believe it was a coordinated attack by trained people who aren’t worried about their supply of ordinance.

          Having said all that, my bottom line is that we can’t just ignore it when a US destroyer gets attacked by anti-ship missiles in international waters. Measured response will likely be the order of the day. Find who the trigger-man is, and hit them. We can’t start retaliating against Tehran or obvious state-actors.

          Get ready for a proxy war. (since we’re already in one, it appears)

          1. Mark Stewart

            The Iranian version of the cruise missile is, or can be, launched from a twin launcher disguised as a regular commercial box truck. Plausible deniability, yes, but not the kind of weapon any country would likely want to supply to rebel militias – even Iran with the Houthis.

            Firing multiple cruise missiles capable of rapid sea-skimming maneuvering and designed to strike vessels at the waterline for maximum damage is what you do when you think you have an opportunity to actually sink a naval warship. This wasn’t just a capability probe – which is why we probably have already learned more about this defensive action than the Navy is really interested in sharing in public. Like if in fact the ship launched active decoys to lure away the missiles they had managed to come within 500 yards or so of the ship – and past two defensive missile systems; i.e., the destroyer’s main armaments…

            The week prior a vessel leased from the US to the UAE was hit with a similar cruise missile – and effectively put out of action. This catamaran wasn’t physically anything like the US Destroyer – but was not too dissimilar from the Littoral Combat Ship we have put in service specifically to counter the type of aggression we anticipated from a country like Iran. That’s another teaching moment there.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            I don’t think I can go with theory No. 1. As of several years ago, a cruise missile still cost more than a million dollars. Seems doubtful Iran would just hand over a bunch of them to some rebels and say, “Enjoy yourselves, boys!”…

            1. Doug Ross

              Why? We just gave them 400 million in cash ransom payment. Maybe they splurged a little bit.

              The two indelible images I will have of the Obama administration will be that pallet of cash and a browser page showing an error when trying to sign up for Obamacare. That pretty much sums up the past eight years.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                This is getting ridiculous. We either need to get our ships the hell out of there or fire back. Just sailing around and getting shot at ain’t exactly a great plan.

                1. Doug Ross

                  “The USS Mason, which was accompanied by the USS Ponce ”

                  Well, there’s the problem. Mason and Ponce. Not much testosterone going on there.

                    1. Bryan Caskey

                      Situations like this are why the US needs a good Commander in Chief. This is what the chief executive is supposed to be dealing with. Hopefully, the adults are home at the White House.

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      One hopes. That is, after all, the chief function of the POTUS — something both Democrats (first) and Republicans (later) have lost sight of….

  3. Mark Stewart

    Whatever the response to this unacceptable act of war, I really hope it is not followed by the President striding to the microphone in the White House to announce “at approximately XX hours EST, forces of the United States…”

    Asymmetric, unannounced, unpublicized and disproportional is what the US’ response should be. It shouldn’t be sending cruise missiles to attack some little band of Houthi rebels in the desert of Yemen.

    Naval and air blockade of Yemen? Tracking and sinking, or boarding and confiscating, those Iranian ships carrying war material headed for Yemen? Destroying every single IRGC naval facility/fleet element on the Iranian coastline (I don’t mean their navy, I mean the fanatics)? Burying their underground nuclear weapons facility? Attacking the Iranian terrorists supporting the Asad regime?

    Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be 4 cruise missiles fired at nothing of consequence in the night. That’s not an appropriate response to an act of war. What is weird here is we have major military hardware being used by non-state players. That’s a major turning point; that was the Iranians. They are the ones who should be held responsible.

    Most importantly, however, we can’t get drawn into taking sides in a sectarian civil war between the Sunni and Shiite factions. We all know there is no end to that.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Nope, responded with three cruise missles aimed at remote Houthi radar outposts.

      A tit for tat swat; in a world that only respects power. With lots of jawing about how the Iranian’s don’t have control over the actions of the Houthis.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I’m good with this response. It’s limited in scope, it’s justifiable self-defense that is related to the attack (I’m assuming the radar outposts were used in coordinating the attack) and proportional.

        If the Iranians want to come out and play, maybe we can dig some Iowa-class battleships out of mothballs and see if those 16 inch guns still work. I bet we have a ton of ordinance for those things sitting around in a warehouse somewhere.

    2. Bill

      “What is weird here is we have major military hardware being used by non-state players. That’s a major turning point.”

      “Weird”? “Major turning point”? I’d just remind you that the US supplied hundreds of Stinger missiles to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

      Not every “act of war” deserves a war. Otherwise, the Koreas, to take just one example, would have been at war many times by now.

        1. Bill

          “high-tech for their time”

          Yeah, the cruise missiles of their time. Anyway, let’s not get tangled up in the minutia of which weapons system is more awesome. The point is, the Iranians or whoever aren’t the first to “share” hi-tech weapons with non-state players.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Stingers are defensive, man portable weapons. And, yes, I think we have rethought providing these kinds of weapons. However, we do provide similar antitank weapons to rebel groups.

            Cruise missiles that can sink a capital warship – or any international trade ships traveling through a choke-point, are another matter altogether.

            Russia provided an anti-aircraft missile launcher to the Ukrainian separatists – and then had to quickly snatch it back from its stooges when they brought down the Malaysian airliner.

            Find an instance where non-state players have been given long range anti ship cruise missiles? Iran is the only propagator out there – though North Korea would probably like in on that revenue. Iran, however, does it out of some kind of zealotry.

            1. Bill

              The mujaheddin went on the offensive with their “defensive” weapons — so lets not get into the chicken-or-egg debate over what constitutes purely defensive and purely offensive weapons systems. Sometimes the only distinction is in who fires first.

              Much more important, in any case, are the Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. But that’s not getting any mention here.

              1. Mark Stewart

                Take a look at google’s sat imagery of Yemen. Saudi Arabia is bombing the country into oblivion. We aren’t. I would agree the Houthi may view this as quibbling.

                Again, strategically, this is about Iran.

    3. Claus

      Wrong, you first do something to get their attention. They launched missiles at our ships that likely couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, we sent in cruise missiles that likely went through the front door. If they have any brains they’ll realized that they’re outclassed in this fight and need to go back to fighting the guys who are throwing rocks at them.

      1. Mark Stewart

        These are Chinese reverse-engineered versions of France’s Exocet missile – which Iran has then further modified and improved.

        Exocets sank how many British warships off the Falklands? These are real weapons with very, very serious strategic implications.

        Just because our most modern warship class was able to defeat these missiles does not mean that they are not a major threat to shipping in the Red Sea. And to naval vessels in general.

        1. Claus

          I’m guessing I have more military strategy experience than you do so excuse me if I disagree with your retaliatory tactics. There is no proof nor will there likely be that we shot down their missiles, we’re content with them thinking they missed… right now they don’t know if they were on target and got shot down or off target and missed. Which is why if they shoot at you, you shoot back and cherry pick your targets rather than carpet bomb them. They now know they’re sitting ducks. You don’t go nuclear on them as you’re suggesting. Now if they don’t stop or get more aggressive you start hitting them harder and harder. They got three cruise missiles this time, next time they may get 30.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Who said anything about carpet bombing? That’s way off target.

            Bombing sand is a futile exercise, even if it happens to have some radar facility on it.

            Strategically, getting mixed up in other people’s proxy wars should not be our concern. Why fight the Yemenis? What is the point in that? Neither side is worth supporting; its sectarian civil war – tribal warfare really. Our strategic concern should be with insuring the state actors behind these proxy wars pursue their agendas in a way that does not threaten the US or our “allies”. So when Iran’s IRGC provides potent anti-ship missiles to a non-state militia – who then shoots them at our ships – one doesn’t go after the immaterial threat, one addresses the root cause.

            The Bab el Mandeb Strait is < 20 miles wide. It is one of the most important global trade route choke points in the world, probably more important than the Straights of Hormuz. Iran's interest is in controlling both. Our strategic interest in to insure that both remain open.

            Out strategic concern is Iran. Strategically, we need to show Iran that it is folly to attempt to compete with us militarily, to turn their desire for regional primacy from the military to the industrial. The strategic aim is to thwart the hardliners and encourage the more moderate elements within Iran to turn them away from their current militaristic trajectory. Strategically, one does that by responding to a series of escalating shoves not with a return shove, but with a flurry of pulverizing roundhouse punches. See 1988's Operation Praying Mantis. Our strategic concern today within Iran, as it has been in the past, is the IRGC.

            Retaliating in a tactical, proportional fashion only leads to further escalation by the aggressor who believes himself an equal in the potential fight.

            1. Claus

              I’m not saying anything about going to war with them. This is nothing more than a pissing match at this point. It’s one step further than watching Russian jets buzz our ships. They shot missiles at one of our ships, we turned around and said, “F you, go fix your radar installations”.

              1. MarkStewart

                Does anyone else find it ironic that I am opposed to Obama’s international strategic orientation – especially as it relates to our loafers, cords and cardigans approach to the axis of the world’s strongman aggressors – and Claus has become his defender.


                Strategically, our current international approach to the bad actors is philosophically unsound. And tone deaf to the realities that even the world stage has dark allies where at times the rules are only about might and will. And cunning.

                We need more cunning in our international responses. At times. Times like these…

      1. Doug Ross

        You had it right the first time. War is a core competency of this country. Can’t live without it.

        1. Claus

          Think of how many people it employees. From generals and admirals in the Pentagon all the way down to the guy who delivers pizza in a city where a defense contractor has a facility.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Indeed. I was once one of those pizza delivery guys. For a total of 8 hours, which I’m guessing is the shortest amount of time anyone on this blog has ever lasted at a job.

            It was shortly after I moved to Millington, TN, where my Dad was attached to the Navy training base after doing a tour at sea off the coast of Vietnam in 1970-71. Another Navy brat who lived on my street (John Paul Jones Ave.!) on the base worked at this pizza place off-base and said it was a great place to work, so he hooked me up with a delivery gig.

            Basically, I spent that whole night driving back and forth from the pizza parlor to the numerous barracks on the base, delivering to sailors and marines straight out of boot camp who were undergoing training there.

            This involved carrying around a portable oven of sorts — an insulated metal cube that was wide and deep enough to hold a pizza lying flat, and nearly as tall, it was like carrying an unusual large and awkward microwave around. I usually had to park a good distance from the barracks before hauling this thing to the entrance. When I got there, the door would open and there’d be this crowd of sailors or marines telling each other “The pizza’s here!” They’d grab it from me, pay me the exact price, and close the door.

            I did not receive a single penny in tips all night. I remember thinking I probably would have fared better if I’d been a girl, but those guys, all about my age, weren’t going to waste their meager pay on ME.

            My hourly pay was $1.25.

            After I went home that night, I never went back to the place. I didn’t even call to tell them I was quitting.

            That was the only job I had that year, as I was busy transferring from USC to Memphis State and settling in at a new school. To this day, whenever I get one of those Social Security statements that shows how much I earned each year, my total compensation for 1972 is $10, for those 8 hours at $1.25.

            My next job, in 1973, as carpenter on a construction crew, paid a lot better. It was also more pleasant work…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          To Doug’s point, we ARE better at it than anyone else in the world. Of course, we are better at a LOT of things than anyone else in the world, but this one’s a biggie.

          We are in many ways the modern Romans, not only dominating the known world militarily, but setting its cultural, political and legal norms. Actually, we probably set the pace culturally more than the Romans did, since all their culture seemed to have come from Greece. To some extent, of course, you can say much of our culture came from England, but probably not to the same extent. We have jazz, motion pictures and rock and roll, all of which Britain has followed our lead on

          Of course, the big difference between us and the Romans is that they were a rapacious, plundering empire that was all about conquering other places so as to take what they had. That’s what Trump thinks the United States SHOULD be, but not what it is. We are the first and foremost country in the world willing to expend blood and treasure to help other people enjoy freedom and other things we hold dear.

          And yes, you DID just hear the fife playing “Yankee Doodle” as you read that…

  4. Bill

    More on those US Stingers – and unintended consequences:
    From a 2001 report in Slate:

    “Even before the Soviet departure [from Afghanistan], the Stingers had begun dispersing to the four corners of the Earth. In the late ’80s, Iranian Revolutionary Guards ambushed a mujahideen military caravan and made off with several dozen missiles. The Iranians promptly put the Stingers into service on their patrol boats. Pakistani intelligence, which distributed the CIA-supplied arms to the mujahideen during the war, skimmed a number off the top. Islamabad not only stockpiled its Stingers but also sold a model to China, which through reverse-engineering developed its own version.
    The mujahideen also dispensed Stingers to their Islamic allies. Among the lucky recipients were rebel groups in places like Tajikistan, Chechnya, and Algeria.
    Stingers inevitably turned up for sale on the international black market. Alan Kuperman, author of a history of the Stinger transfer published in 1999 in Political Science Quarterly, puts the United Arab Emirates, Somalia, Iraq, Qatar, Zambia, and North Korea among the nations to acquire the Stinger. They are also believed to be in the arsenal of anti-government guerrillas in Turkey and Sri Lanka, as well as Hezbollah guerrillas operating in Lebanon.
    In the early ’90s, Stingers were used in a flurry of attacks against military and possibly civilian aircraft. The Russian press reported that Islamic rebels used a Stinger to shoot down an Su-25 fighter-bomber over Tajikistan, and a U.N. investigation fingered the U.S.-made missile in an attack that brought down an Italian supply plane. In 1993, Muslim separatists shot down a Georgian airliner, killing dozens of passengers aboard. Investigators never determined what type of missile was used, but shortly before the attack took place, separatist leaders had coyly hinted to reporters that they were the proud owners of a few Stingers.
    In 1999, the Indian government claimed that Muslim rebels in Kashmir used a Stinger to down a military helicopter, killing all five soldiers on board.


    A former intelligence officer familiar with the [Stinger buyback] program calls the buyback effort an abysmal failure. “The things have spread so far that we don’t even know where they are anymore,” he says.

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