Targeting of U.S. troops on bases in Iraq and Syria by local militia, attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah strikes against Israel from Lebanon, “none of this happens without Iran,” Michael Pregent told participants in a Jewish Policy Center webinar on January 25. Pregent, a Hudson Institute senior fellow on national security and defense, discussed “Iran’s Red Sea Tentacles.”
Pregent served as a company commander in Afghanistan, embedded advisor to the Kurdish Peshmerga militia in Iraq, and violent extremist and foreign fighter analyst for CENTCOM—the U.S. military’s Central Command, which has responsibility for the Middle East. He said Washington’s relatively restrained response to Houthi drone and missile attacks on commercial vessels and even U.S. Navy ships using Iranian supplied weapons amounted to “shooting the arrows but not the archer.”
“President Biden admitted this week that this is not working,” Pregent noted. The attacks “will continue until Iran feels pain.” He cited President Trump’s decision to kill Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and President Reagan’s order to “sink half the Iranian navy” after earlier provocations as part of a serious campaign to contain the mullahs’ regime.
The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran enforcing economic sanctions and imposing international terrorist designations on Iranian proxies “was so effective” in limiting Tehran’s ability to fund proxies that “Houthis were taking donations,” Pregent said.
By contrast, the Biden administration recently announced sanctions but has not enforced them, he charged. In addition, the White House’s payment of $6 billion in exchange for five dual American-Iranian citizens imprisoned by Iran, and release of another $10 billion in sequestered oil revenue have contributed to Tehran’s renewed ability to fund terrorist proxies. As a result, “militia in Iraq have become so brazen … they are constantly attacking U.S. bases and personnel.”
One way to stop such aggression would be to “take out the IRGC targeting vessel sitting right there … telling the Houthis what vessels to hit and what not,” shielding Russian and Chinese ships, according to Pregent. Those countries, and North Korea, have become part of what Iran calls its “axis of resistance,” not only against Israel but also the West in general and America in particular, he said.
“This is what war with Iran looks like. … It will be fought with proxies,” Pregent asserted. Tehran “will fight to the last Arab.” “But what makes this war different,” he said, is that since Hamas’ October 7 massacres in Israel, Iran has been using all it proxies—Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, militia in Iraq and Syria and the Houthis to attack the Jewish state. He said Iran “green-lighted the October 7 attacks.”
Thirty Americans were killed and eight taken hostage, Pregent said. But the White House “sits on its hands” because it does not want to confront Tehran as the author of Middle East chaos, especially in a presidential election year.
The Obama administration’s nuclear weapons agreement with Tehran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did not deal with Iranian missile development or terrorism support, Pregent noted, and former Obama officials are back. These include Antony Blinken, secretary of state; Jake Sullivan, national security advisor; John Kerry, Obama’s second secretary of state and Biden’s “hybrid” climate czar and campaign official, and Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor and Biden’s former domestic policy director.
Pregent also criticized Washington’s dealing with Qatar, the small, natural gas-rich peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia. Qatar hosts al-Jazeera broadcasting and buys influence in the United States, including “think tanks, schoo0ls, and funding all those anti-U.S. groups” marching against Israel and the United States, plus “a five percent stake in the Washington Post,” he charged. Its mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas over release of hostages held by the latter “are to bring ransom payments to support Iran and Hamas.”
The recent phenomenon of American’s marching in support of Yemen and the Houthis Pregent found especially troubling. “We’re not able to penetrate the thinking of Americans under 30,” he said. Led by social media, they have no understanding the internationally recognized government of Yemen is being attacked by the Houthis or that the Trump administration designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization for a reason, a terrorist organization that has grown in capability thanks to Iran.
Meanwhile, adversaries will keep testing the United States, he said. “If you can’t take on the Taliban [in Afghanistan] or Iran, how are you going to take on Russia and China? … So, we have Hamas leaders going to Moscow, Russian ships using Chinese ports” and Russians buying Iranian drones to use against Ukraine.
A 20-year veteran of the U.S. military, Pregent has written for Foreign Affairs, the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy, among other publications. But now, “I wouldn’t advise anyone in my family to enlist,” he said. Pregent noted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, upon taking office, that climate change was one of the military’s major issues, along with alleged internal threats from white radical Trump supporters. And he worried that with diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) training stressing identity group associations over military unity, recruits might question the legitimacy of orders from “a white, Catholic guy from Texas.”
Nevertheless, Pregent asserted “there are solutions to everything I’ve said.” “October 7 opened a lot of eyes,” and enforcing sanctions on Iran and other adversaries under positive leadership for the military and the country would be a start.