Congress Approves Plan To Combat Iranian Attacks at Sea

Strategy calls for increased military cooperation between the United States, Israel, and UAE

(Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
December 19, 2023

Congress has ordered the Defense Department to develop military plans with America’s Middle East allies that will combat Iran’s terrorist operations at sea, which have increased significantly since Tehran’s proxy Hamas launched its war on Israel.

Included in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual budget bill passed earlier this month, is a provision that requires the Pentagon to develop strategies to confront Iranian threats at sea, where Tehran and its terror proxies are routinely harassing American military and commercial ships.

The provision, spearheaded by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and several Republican and Democratic colleagues, "would expand U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) capabilities, as well as operational coordination in the region to defend against shared threats," according to the senator’s office. The bill will increase military cooperation between the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations that signed the landmark Abraham Accords peace deal.

The provision’s approval in a divided Congress signals that members of both parties want the Biden administration to more aggressively police Iran’s terrorism at sea. The Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, for instance, have launched a barrage of ballistic missile strikes on U.S. forces in recent weeks, and Iran’s naval forces also continue to harass commercial ships in the region. The Biden administration has conducted limited military strikes in response to these threats but has not implemented new sanctions on Iran or its terrorist allies.

"The Biden administration is extremely weak on this front," Ernst told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview. "It’s really timely [to get this law passed] because we just saw the Houthis and these other terrorist proxy orgs increasing their attacks. We’re seeing a lot of aggression coming from Iran and their proxies and this will help push back against that."

Dubbed the Maritime Architecture and Response to International Terrorism in the Middle East (MARITIME) Act, the legislation used the Abraham Accords’ architecture to form an anti-Iran military coalition meant to crack down on Iranian aggression at sea.

The United States and its Middle East partners, including Israel, will integrate their respective militaries to confront Tehran’s terrorism.

The integrated capabilities will allow the countries to target Tehran’s illicit oil trade—a major source of revenue for the hardline regime—and also combat an increase in attacks by Iran’s terror proxies, like the Houthis in Yemen.

"What we hear from our allies is that this maritime security is increasingly important," Ernst said. "We know that Iran is violating international commerce agreements, and we see the Iranian oil sales funding the IRGC’s [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] terror campaign not just in that region, but around the world."

The defense pact will "show our allies and partners that we are with them, [and] we are going to continue to push back against Iran," the senator said. "American lives are at stake so it’s important we push back and make sure we’re protecting our American interests in the region."

The Houthis said this week that they will continue to disrupt international shipping lanes in the Red Sea, signaling that Tehran's proxies are not deterred by the threat of U.S. military action.

In response to these ongoing threats, the United States announced on Monday the creation of a joint maritime force composed of the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain. Ernst's bill will likely bolster this force by helping to integrate Israel and other Arab countries into the alliance.