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U.S. Responded to Attack on Saudi Oilfield with Secret Cyber Op Against Iran

It’s just the opposite of how President Trump gets portrayed, you know?

People figured he’d be a bloodthirsty warmonger. But it turns out he’s been very measured, if direct, in some of his responses to world events. He genuinely sees military operations as a last resort.

Turns out that while many were demanding we blow something up in Iran in response to last month’s attack on Saudi Arabia, Trump decided to keep the response below the radar instead of doing something that could have escalated into a war.

According to Reuters:

The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.”

One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details.

The attack highlights how President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict.

Asked about Reuters reporting on Wednesday, Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said: “They must have dreamt it,” Fars news agency reported.

The U.S. strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May.

Trump Sends Troops and Missiles to Saudi Arabia

Seems to me like a strong, yet measured response.

According to the Washington Examiner:

The Pentagon is sending additional troops and missiles to Saudi Arabia in response to Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities last weekend.

“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which are primarily defensive in nature,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a surprise briefing Friday night. He said the kingdom had asked President Trump for the support.

“We are contributing to Saudi Arabia’s defense,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford added.

Neither official would say how many troops the United States is contributing, but the number will likely be in the hundreds. Nothing is happening immediately, and Dunford said he will present more specifics next week.

Esper said U.S. and Saudi officials on the ground had confirmed the attack originated in Iran.

Trump’s Cool, Rational Approach to Iran

The man who is forever characterized as an irrational hothead is playing Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia cooler than everyone else.

He is talking to lots of people, getting advice, assembling information, and then he’ll make a decision – hoping to steer clear of war if possible.

It’s not just Lindsey Graham and the usual neocons who want us to hit Iran. It’s the Wall Street Journal:

 If the message to Iran is that Mr. Trump has taken military force off the table, the Middle East becomes more dangerous and Mr. Trump may be backed into returning to Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal. 

Mr. Trump wants to reduce every foreign controversy to a negotiation with some head of state, and the world’s bad actors are figuring that out. Tehran has a clear policy to become the dominant power in the Middle East, and its actions—including aggression to destabilize its Arab neighbors—support that policy. Mr. Trump had better prepare for more Iranian trouble.

Over at American Greatness, Joseph Duggan has a much smarter take:

We are in a protracted conflict, and the United States and our allies need to act strategically over the long term. Reagan won the Cold War by resisting the temptation to go to war when there were flashpoints such as what we’ve seen in the past week.

America is much stronger than Iran. We are much stronger than the terrorist organizations ISIS and al-Qaeda. We can outlast them.

The Trump Administration should refuse to take the bait of answering a spectacular attack with a showy gesture of rapid escalation that is not strategically sound. We need to play to our strengths and not dissipate them. The United States must operate steadily, and usually covertly, to degrade our adversaries’ ability to harm our allies and our interests.

Yes, at a certain point, we may need to deliver a military response. But the goal is to let Iran know this is unacceptable, not to show how tough we are. And there are many, quieter ways to make Iran pay without risking a large-scale war.

Trump Denies Responsibility for Blowing Up Iranian Rocket

Here’s what happened, according to AP:

A rocket at an Iranian space center that was to conduct a satellite launch criticized by the U.S. apparently exploded on its launch pad Thursday, satellite images show, suggesting the Islamic Republic suffered its third failed launch this year alone.

Israelis? Iranian incompetence? We actually did do it? All plausible explanations.

Trump Handled The Iran Crisis Poorly, but His Flexibility May Have Avoided a War

President Trump’s decision not to go ahead with a retaliatory strike on Iran may have prevented a war by avoiding one of the reasons for unnecessary conflict: Leaders trapped into rigid thinking and plans under which they believe their hand has been forced.

Let’s be clear. Trump’s response was bungled. He’s managed to do this in a way that makes him look weak and indecisive. But he appears to have made the correct choice and ultimately decided it was more important to get it right than to worry about how things looked.

Trump had planned to strike Iran, but says he decided not to — ten minutes before launch — when he asked his commanders how many people would be killed and was informed that about 150 would die.

This does not ring true at all. In all likelihood, military planners would have told him how many people would die well before the attack. And if they didn’t and he didn’t ask, he was negligent.

What appears more likely is that Trump was responding to two pieces of intelligence, both of which may have emerged after his initial decision to hit Iran.

First, it seems that the Iranian leadership did not order the strike and was unhappy with a lower-ranking military commander who did.

Second, it now appears that the drone may, in fact, have been in Iranian airspace. Therefore, while a bad idea, Iran would have had some justification, at least legally, for shooting down the drone, and the United States would have been committing an act of war by responding.

All of this is preliminary information. It could change. A full picture has not emerged.

But if true, Trump made the right call not to respond and to change his mind. That actually shows strength in a leader. But calling off an attack ten minutes before it is to launch also shows weakness and indecision, and saying that it was because you suddenly asked about casualties is either a lie or a sign of incompetence.

So while there are good reasons to question how Trump handled this, overall we can be thankful that he took action that avoided what could have been a brutal and unnecessary war resulting from things leaders felt they “had” to do.

You know, think World War I.

Trump should have simply said the Iranians screwed up by hitting the drone but can’t admit it and that the aircraft may have been in Iranian territory instead of going on about casualties. Simple enough, and he would look like a strong leader by not acting.

I think Iran and other enemies would be mistaken to interpret Trump’s errors here as a sign he won’t take action when necessary. He also tweeted that Iran will “NEVER” have a nuclear weapon. I believe he means it, and he will take the steps necessary to ensure it.

WSJ Editorial: Trump’s Iran Policy Can Succeed

So everyone, from Democrats, to journalists, to all of Europe, is pissing in their pants because Iran is threatening to increase its production of uranium in response to President Trump’s sanctions and supposed belligerance.

The United States has to make a decision about whether it can live with a brutal, terrorism-sponsoring Iranian theocracy with nuclear weapons. Barack Obama decided that this would be someone else’s problem, crafting a deal that would allow the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons a decade or so from now. Trump and his advisors have decided to take responsibility for solving the problem, and of course are getting lots of grief for it.

A new op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh counsels patience with Trump’s policy and not to overreact to Iranian actions meant to scare everyone. Trump’s policy is not designed to start a war — though that could happen, there are always risks — but to force Iran back to the negotiating table for a deal that will actually prevent them from have nukes. Or, potentially to cause the collapse of the Iranian regime, though I wouldn’t count on it.

The risk of war should not outweigh the certainty under the Obama deal that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, which would not only pose an existential threat to the United States but would prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

From the WSJ piece:

Despite the criticisms from Democrats and Europeans, Mr. Trump’s Iran policy has had considerable success. He abrogated a deficient agreement that was smoothing Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. He restored sanctions, which many Iran-deal partisans insisted couldn’t be done effectively. The economic pain Tehran feels today is as great as when the Europeans implemented their oil embargo in 2012. Iran’s oil exports have contracted rapidly, denying the regime billions of dollars in hard currency. The key challenge for the Trump administration now is to sustain its strategy as the Iranians start dangling the possibility of a diplomatic opening. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most important contribution has been to dispense with the once-popular notion that the nuclear issue can be separated from the clerical regime’s regional ambitions. His May 2018 “12 points” speech sensibly posited that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism shouldn’t possess a nuclear arsenal. The administration has developed a containment strategy that is unconventional and restrained—Iran’s expeditionary forces and allied militias in the northern Middle East haven’t been targeted—but still punishing. As long as Mr. Trump is willing to respond to a direct challenge, conventional or nuclear, and Tehran is convinced of the president’s mettle, time is on Washington’s side. 

America’s Iran problem will remain until the theocracy cracks. Given the regime’s inability to escape the contradictions of its own making, that day is drawing closer. The U.S. needs stamina—and a clear understanding of how the enemy sees itself.

The Trump Iran Policy is Working

I’m a little concerned that National Security Advisor John Bolton is looking for a war. But as it stands now, the Iran policy he and President Trump are pursuing is working.

In short, the idea is to try to do something about problems every other administration has kicked down the road: Iran’s nuclear program cannot be permitted to resume and get to a point where they can build ICBMs, all of which they can do under the deal Barack Obama negotiated with them, as long as they wait a few years. Iran’s influence around the Middle East must be rolled back. And Iran must stop killing Americans, something they have been doing for years and that has simply been tolerated.

No more. As this great piece by Marc Thiessen makes clear, the increase in U.S. forces in the Gulf was ordered because while Trump tightens the screws with sanctions – hoping to force Iran back to the negotiating table – the country is about to start attacking Americans, maybe in a big way, as they have in the past.

The message is: We are the superior power, and we will not be threatened by you.

From the Thiessen piece:

When Trump came into office, Iran was on the march across the Middle East — in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen — thanks to the Obama administration’s failure to confront Iranian aggression and the massive infusions of cash it received from sanctions relief under President Barack Obama’s Iran deal. Trump withdrew from the deal, but he did not simply restore sanctions imposed before it; he ramped them up to unprecedented levels. The sanctions have already “wiped $10 billion from Iranian revenue since November,” The Post reported, citing administration officials.

This month, the administration tightened the screws even further, eliminating waivers for eight countries that had previously been allowed to continue importing Iranian oil. The goal, according to American officials, is to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero.” It’s working. Bloomberg News reports that “Iran’s oil shipments tumbled this month after the U.S. ended sanctions waivers. . . . So far, not a single ship has been seen leaving Iran’s oil terminals for foreign ports.”

The new sanctions are forcing Tehran to cut funds to its terrorist proxies. According to The Post, “Iran’s ability to finance allies such as Hezbollah has been curtailed,” while in Lebanon, the New York Times reports, “Syrian militiamen paid by Iran have seen their salaries slashed” because, to quote one fighter, “Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.” On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that “Iran’s proposed defense budget has been reduced by 25 percent and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’] proposed budget by about 10 percent.”

Iran is obviously unhappy with this, and U.S. intelligence saw signs that Iran was preparing to respond with attacks on Americans using terrorist proxies — just as they did in the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombingand the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and by supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with armor-penetrating roadside bombs that killed hundreds of American soldiers.

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