Sen. Cotton: Iran’s ‘Unprovoked Attack on Commercial Shipping Warrants Retaliatory Military Strikes’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 16, 2019 | 10:12pm EDT
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

( – As the Trump administration works to convince allies that Iran was responsible for last week’s attack on two tankers near the Persian Gulf, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Sunday that “this unprovoked attack on commercial shipping warrants retaliatory military strikes.”

“The fastest way to get the fire and fury of the U.S. military unleashed on you is to interfere with the freedom of navigation on the open seas and in the air,” Cotton told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“That’s exactly what Iran is doing in one of the world’s most important strategic chokepoints.”

On the same program, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “considering a full range of options” in response to recent events, adding that the administration was confident that it could “take a set of actions that can restore deterrence – which is our mission set.”

Asked whether that full range of options includes a military response, Pompeo replied, “Of course.”

Last Thursday morning two tankers about ten nautical miles apart caught fire after explosions in the Gulf of Oman, south of the Strait of Hormuz.

The 23 sailors onboard the Norwegian-owned Front Altair were rescued by a passing cargo ship, but after Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boats surrounded that ship it handed the crew over to the Iranians, who took the mostly Filipino and Russian sailors to the nearby Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. They were allowed to leave at the weekend.

The 21-person crew of the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous were evacuated by a Dutch tug, and then transferred to the USS Bainbridge, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer. According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), an IRGC patrol boat had evidently been trying to reach the Dutch tug ahead of the U.S. warship in order to get that crew as well, but failed to do so.

About five hours later, a U.S. surveillance drone filmed personnel in an IRGC patrol boast appearing to remove an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of Kokuka Courageous, CENTCOM reported.

On Sunday, CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown said that as that drone was filming the burning ship earlier that day, a missile was fired in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot it down or disrupt its surveillance. Brown said the military assessed that the projectile fired was a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile.

The U.S. military and Trump administration are now accusing Iran and its surrogates of responsibility for a series of provocative recent actions.

They include Thursday’s tanker attacks, and an attempt the same day to shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone; the sabotage of four other tankers in the same region on May 12; a drone attack on Saudi oil pipelines on May 14; a rocket that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on May 19; a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on May 31; the shooting down over Yemen of a U.S. surveillance drone on June 6; and a missile attack on a Saudi airport on June 12.

Fire and smoke billow from the Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

‘The president has the authorization to act, to defend American interests’

On Sunday’s CBS show, host Margaret Brennan asked Cotton what kind of response was warranted.

Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran with combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan, recalled how President Reagan had responded to Iranian actions in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s, at a time when U.S. warships escorted reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the waterway after some were damaged by Iranian mines.

(After a U.S. frigate was damaged by an Iranian mine, Reagan in April 1988 ordered the destruction of two Iranian oil platforms, and in an ensuing confrontation the U.S. Navy damaged or destroyed six Iranian ships.)

“These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike,” Cotton said.

Brennan asked whether he was comparing the situation now to the “Tanker War” in the 1980s.

“We can make a military reac— response in a time and in a manner of our choosing. But, yes,” Cotton repeated, “unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Asked whether he believed the administration could act without seeking congressional approval first, Cotton replied, “yes.”

From the days of George Washington all the way to President Trump, he said, “the fastest way to get the fire and fury of the U.S. military unleashed on you is to interfere with the freedom of navigation on the open seas and in the air.”

“That’s exactly what Iran is doing in one of the world’s most important strategic chokepoints,” Cotton added. “The president has the authorization to act, to defend American interests.”

Cotton made clear he was not talking about actions like the drawn-out Iraq or Afghanistan wars, “but retaliatory military strikes against Iran that make it clear we will not tolerate any kind of attacks on commercial shipping on the open seas.”

About one-third of the world’s crude oil flows through the Persian Gulf and its Strait of Hormuz.

“If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,” International Association of Independent Tanker Owners chairman Paolo d’Amico said in a statement reacting to the attacks on the tankers.

The trade association condemned the incidents “in the strongest possible way.”

“We call on the nations of the world to calm tensions in the region and do everything possible to protect the lives of the seafarers who navigate this vital sea route for the benefit of all.”

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