Speaking at a crowded campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida last September, then Republican nominee Donald Trump issued a stern threat to Tehran. Responding to a recent incident where Iranian ships harassed a US navy patrol, Trump warned, “With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures — that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”
This post was originally published at JewishInsider.com.
Only months into Trump’s presidency, Iran has continued its provocative actions, south of the Strait of Hormuz. US officials told CBS News earlier this month that Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats positioned themselves in front of the USNS Invincible, a move deemed “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
Nonetheless, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships were not “shot out of the water.” Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) told Jewish Insider, “What we are looking at is an evolving Iran policy. I think we are still in the early days.” At the same time, Schanzer emphasized that personnel changes have clearly impacted the Trump administration’s actions. “It can’t be ignored that we’ve seen a changing of the guard over the last two months with the exit of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the entrance of H.R. McMaster. We’ve certainly seen tougher rhetoric and an inclination to use sanctions, but I don’t think a policy has fully taken shape yet.”
“We have seen a President who is rather committed in following through on his campaign promises,” Schanzer continued. “This, I think, has been a point of pride for this Administration. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of a US challenge to the Iranians in this regard. The context of Flynn putting Iran on-notice and reportedly having a very robust policy regarding Iran and then his exit shouldn’t be ignored. It’s not to say that there isn’t continuity between Flynn and McMaster but some of this still remains to be seen. All things equal, you are still at the early days of McMaster.”
When asked about Trump’s September declaration and the recent Iranian naval aggression, Michael Makovsky, President of JINSA told Jewish Insider, “That is the difference between campaigning and governing.” Makovsky agreed with Schanzer that Trump’s skeleton National Security team may limit his ability to respond decisively. “We don’t even have an under Secretary of Defense for Policy proposed yet. The issue is to be prepared for what the Iranians could do after that. That takes more planning and I’m just not sure from a personnel standpoint they have enough of the right staff in place yet to do all that planning,” he added.
What could the appropriate response to continued Iranian provocative naval actions? “There could be renewed sanctions against those who are carrying these attacks. We could see a full designation of the IRGC, for example. Not to mention additional sanctions on proxies in the Gulf,” Schanzer explained.Other options include “arming the countries that oppose Iran in the region to empower those who are trying to counter Iran through military means and of course there are kinetic and cyber options as well.”
Makovsky supports a military response. “The key is if they harass our ships, we have to sink them. He’s (Trump) right. We can’t look like we’re afraid of a confrontation. On the contrary, we need to show that we are not afraid and we are fully prepared for one. If the Iranians misbehave, then we’re going to push back. There will be consequences for the Iranians,” he declared.