INTERNATIONAL – Following the Houthi attack on Saturday on Saudi Aramco’s crude-oil processing facility, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an obvious and necessary point: Blame Iran.
It is obvious because the Houthi rebels in Yemen lack the drones, missiles or expertise to attack infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia. In 2018, a United Nations panel of experts on Yemen examined the debris of missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into Saudi Arabia and concluded there was high probability the weapons were shipped in components from Iran. As one Hezbollah commander told two George Washington University analysts in 2016: “Who do you think fires Tochka missiles into Saudi Arabia? It’s not the Houthis in their sandals, it’s us.” Hezbollah, of course, is a subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Pompeo’s response is necessary because, historically, Iran pretends to seek peace as it makes war. This is why it sent Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to France last month to plead with the world’s great economic powers as it escalated its proxy war against Saudi Arabia. Iranian diplomacy depends on its adversaries treating the aggression of its proxies as distinct from its statecraft.
What is surprising is that Pompeo’s remarks have already drawn fire from leading Democrats. Even Senator Chris Murphy’s more nuanced view (or at least as much nuance as is possible in a tweet) gets the big picture wrong — and it’s worth dwelling on why.
Murphy starts by lamenting the secretary’s “irresponsible simplification” of “Houthis=Iran.” He is smart enough to acknowledge that Iran “is backing the Houthis and has been a bad actor.” He then strikes a note of naivete. “The Saudis and Houthis are at war,” he tweeted. “The Saudis attack the Houthis and the Houthis attack back.”