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Iran-Backed Houthi Rebels Strike Supertankers

Super Tanker Takes On Crude Oil At ABOT
Houthi Flag Hanging From A House In Dhamar, Yemen
Houthi Flag Hanging From A House In Dhamar, Yemen
"God Is The Greatest, Death To America, Death To Israel, A Curse Upon The Jews, Victory To Islam" | Photo: James Faddis | Saudi, Rebels, Houthi, Attack, Iranian,

Iranian Spy Ship Coordinated Attacks On Saudi Supertankers In The Red Sea

On July 25, 2018 two Saudi supertankers in the Red Sea were attacked by a volley of anti-ship missiles fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. One ship was missed entirely. The second ship, the Arsen, was struck by one of the missiles but fortunately the warhead malfunctioned. The ship sustained serious damage but did not sink. Most critically the 2 million barrels of crude oil on board were not spilled.

The attack was barely noticed around the world, but the reality is that the Red Sea came within a hair's breadth of environmental catastrophe. By comparison the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, which devastated marine habitats in Alaska, involved roughly 250,000 barrels of oil, a little over ten percent of what the Arsen was carrying. The cost of cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez spill ultimately ran to $2.5 billion. The total cost of the incident is estimated to have exceeded $7 billion. What the cost would be in dollars spent and lives ruined if 2 million barrels of crude were dumped into the fragile habitat of the Red Sea is anyone's guess.

Houthi rebels on shore in Yemen have fired missiles at ships at sea before. Since October 2016, there have been, in fact, eight such attacks on US, Saudi and UAE warships and tankers sailing through the Red Sea. This time, however, according to the Israeli intelligence website, Debka, the Houthis did not act alone.

Per Debka, prior to the attack on the two Saudi supertankers, Saudi and Emirati intelligence intercepted communications between an Iranian flagged "cargo" ship, the Saviz , and Houthi rebels. In the communications, the Saviz , which is in reality a weapons-carrying spy ship, provided targeting data to the rebels, which was then used in the attack on the Saudi ships. The Iranians told the Houthis exactly where the tankers were, their course and speed and when and where to strike them. For weeks prior to the attack the Saviz had been tracked loitering in the Red Sea using advanced surveillance gear to monitor military and commercial vessels in the area.

The day after the attacks, unable to contain his delight, Iranian Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani gloated: "The Red Sea is not secure with the presence of American troops in the area." The Saudis, alarmed by the threat to shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world's most critical waterways, immediately suspended all shipping until security could be guaranteed. An estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil a day move through the Bab-El-Mandeb, the narrow strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, near which the attacks on the Saudi supertankers occurred.

The Saviz has long been known to be functioning as an intelligence gathering platform and command and control platform for Iranian activities in support of the Houthi rebels. Saudi intelligence has previously released photos showing smuggling boats known to be used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Houthi rebels on the deck of the Saviz ready for use. Since the most recent attacks the Saviz has remained in the same area presumably continuing to gather information and to support efforts to disrupt the world's oil supply.

That the Iranians provide support to the Houthi rebels has been well known for a long time. This time, however, the Iranians crossed a very important line and involved themselves not simply in providing training and equipment but in involving themselves directly in the execution of a potentially deadly attack on a Saudi vessel. When Houthi rebels targeted the USS Mason in 2016, President Obama reacted immediately. A Houthi missile base on the Red Sea was destroyed by US forces. This attack, a dramatic escalation of Iranian tactics, should provoke an even more rigorous response. We, and our Saudi allies, cannot for a moment allow Tehran to proceed under the assumption that they can threaten the economic well-being of the planet and play God with the ecology of an entire region of the world without facing severe repercussions.

President Trump's decision to walk away from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal was a good first step in fixing our Iran policy. The hard part has only begun however. The Iranians allowed out of their cage by the feckless, weak kneed policies of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama have no intention of returning to the previous status quo. They are emboldened, flush with cash and hoping that the Trump Administration's bluster will not be matched by its actions and resolve. It is time to disabuse Tehran of this misconceptions. It is time for a warning shot across the bow of the ayatollahs.

Sending the Saviz to the bottom would be a good first step.

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Updated Aug 17, 2018 5:56 PM EDT | More details

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