The U.S. and Britain launched strikes against dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, as the American retaliation against Iran-linked groups continues following a deadly attack on U.S. service members in Jordan.
The Pentagon says the strikes focused on storage facilities, missile systems and launchers that the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping.
Mario Mancuso, a former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, joined WTOP’s Ralph Fox to talk about what happens next.
The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ralph Fox: In light of information released from CENTCOM and public reporting, what’s the preliminary conclusions about the intended effect of these strikes?
Mario Mancuso: I think the strikes against the proxies, and frankly Iraq and Syria, are slightly more important, only because I think the strikes against the Houthis in Yemen last night launched by the United States and the UK was largely focused on, you know, obviously, preventing U.S. ships in the area and shipping and so it’s slightly different. But with respect to the retaliatory strikes against their killing of our servicemen and women, I think that battle damage assessments are still coming in. What we know from the strikes itself is that there were 85 targets in Iraq and Syria struck. Mostly, you know, munitions depots, command and control centers, intel centers, etc. The one thing that I think is significant is that apparently we also struck Quds Force targets, i.e., actual Iranian targets outside of Iran. That’s significant. I think we need to do more of it. And certainly, it seems that the initial wave of strikes that the United States launched on Friday in Iraq and Syria is just the first of more … But it seems as if they were intended to degrade the military capabilities of in most cases, the proxy forces, not the Quds Force, per se.
Ralph Fox: When we look at the regional response, what’s it been thus far? And what can we expect moving forward?
Mario Mancuso: Not surprisingly, you’ve seen statements from Iran. Essentially, a spokesman from their foreign ministry said that this will add to instability, this will increase tension. Hamas, believe it or not, has issued a statement that these strikes were violation on the sovereignty of Iraq and Syria, and the Russians have issued a statement to the effect that the United States was trying to continue to sow division. I think the most surprising response — not altogether surprising, but not expected — the Iraqis issued a statement to the effect of challenging the U.S.’s previous statement that the U.S. had coordinated in advance the attacks that would have happened inside Iraq. Iraqis essentially contested that, saying that that wasn’t true, it seems.
Ralph Fox: That has to be a risky balance, deterrence versus potential major escalation. How does the U.S. handle that?
Mario Mancuso: I think those two things are often, you know, posed as, in many respects, as opposites. But, you know, sometimes you have to risk escalation to deter escalation. And I think here, the key piece that the United States has to do is not just look at the tit for tat and, you know, figure out the math, though, you know, they killed three of our service members, and we launched 85 attacks. But deterrence is ultimately about costs, right? At the end of the day, the way you deter an adversary is to make them think, to make them understand that the costs of doing something greatly outweigh the benefits. When their proxies attack us, we bear the costs. When we attack the proxies, the proxies — not Iran — [bear] the costs. So I think the challenge for the United States is to impose greater costs on Iran itself. That could mean attacking Iran inside Iran, but it could also mean attacking Iran outside of Iran. And so I think, ultimately, the success of U.S. retaliation will be driven by how much, how many costs can we impose on Iran because that will be the only thing that deters Iran in the future and right now deterrence is not working.