The Middle East Is Making Noise. Is Jake Sullivan Listening?

National Security adviser Jake Sullivan (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the days leading up to Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel, President Joe Biden’s "once-in-a-generation-talent" on national security matters, Jake Sullivan, crowed that the Middle East "is quieter than it has been for decades."

It's quiet no longer.

Over the past two months, Iranian proxies throughout the region have attacked American troops 76 times. The U.S. military has responded just seven times, hitting largely inconsequential targets.

In October and November, one of Tehran’s main chess pieces in the region, the Yemen-based Houthis, entered the fray. They have fired several missiles toward Israeli targets and American warships, shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, seized a commercial vessel in the Red Sea, and fired ballistic missiles near the Navy warship USS Mason.

On Sunday, the Houthis launched four separate attacks against three commercial vessels in the southern Red Sea.

If Sullivan is listening, Iran and its proxies are making plenty of noise.

The pattern of escalation cannot be ignored, and downplaying the threat is not an adequate response, either. So, what would our unsolicited advice be to the Democrats’ national security wunderkinds?

Redesignating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization—reversing one of the Biden administration’s first moves—is the bare minimum. But reestablishing deterrence will require more.

U.S. Central Command has done well in publicizing two months’ worth of Iran-directed and supported attacks. CENTCOM should continue to engage in the information domain and release additional information to illuminate this continuing threat.

The U.S. Navy should also recall its past successes of interdicting illicit shipment of weapons from Iran in international waters. We know the Iranians are filling ships with Russian- and Chinese-made weapons en route to Yemen. The Navy should seize these shipments—with more frequency and closer to Iranian shores—to make Iran pay the price for its behavior and to show we know how their networks operate.

Iran has flaunted its well-funded drone and UAV operation, not only in the Persian Gulf but also in the cities and towns of Ukraine and on the open seas. The United States should target them, including in their home ports, launch locations, and storage facilities on the mainland.

The United States-led international order begins and ends on the high seas. The order already teetering, the Biden administration faces a crossroads. Its tit-for-tat response to the scheming of Iran’s satraps has failed. It can further enable the Houthis—and Iran's aggression—or reassert some American muscle.

Readers, you know which option has our vote.