Threatening rhetorical exchanges on Twitter have once again inflamed tensions between Iran and the United States. In tone and effectiveness, Iran’s false bravado on social media reminds me of my personal experience with threatening Iranian naval behavior in the Strait of Hormuz.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boldly cautioned American President Donald Trump, saying, “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret” and suggesting that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
President Trump fired back that Tehran would face very serious consequences, “the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before,” if further threats were made against the United States.
I don’t believe this major Twitter fight is a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention since the introduction of then-candidate Trump and his campaign promise to pull out of the horrible nuclear deal struck by President Obama and reinstate a hard line with the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism.
Iran’s behavior, meanwhile, follows years of a policy to threaten and bully as far as their enemies will allow. I have personally witnessed this kind of Iranian false bravado and posturing followed by immediate retreat on a much smaller scale in the Strait of Hormuz many years ago.
My first experience with the “Iranian chicken dance” occurred in 2003 while a gunner’s mate 2nd class on board the USS Gettysburg (CG-64). It was my first overseas deployment. I’ll never forget the mission brief before our first transit into the gulf. We were told by the weapons officer that we would most likely see a swarm of small, fast Iranian attack craft heading full steam for the battle group as we made our way through the strait, but that they would most likely reverse course and retreat back to their coast before intercepting and engaging our warships.
We were told that we were cleared to fire warning shots if the enemy craft closed within 150 yards.
I thought, really? That is odd. I was brand new to the fleet and had zero exposure to any of this. My station during the transit was as the gunner on the port side twenty-five-millimeter chain gun, so I had a front-row seat for the entire show and, to be honest, the ability to stop them dead in the water. I remember hearing calls coming over coms as we got close to the tightest point in the transit alerting us that the fast attack craft were headed our way. I thought to myself, “you have got to be kidding me.”
Here we are, the most powerful Navy ever created, with several warships accompanying an aircraft carrier with enough firepower to pose a serious threat to the security of the entire Iranian regime, and they are sending a handful of speedboats armed only with crew served and handheld weapons, straight towards us in a game of suicidal chicken.
Sure enough, here they came. There were close to 30 in number and they were so small that you could see their linear wake trailing behind them long before you could spot the actual craft. They were headed straight towards us in a direct line of interdiction with our battle group. Our helicopter immediately headed out to meet them and deter them from doing something very foolish and deadly. To the disappointment of many within the crew that day, the attack boats did exactly what we were briefed they would do.
No shots were fired, nobody was wounded. They puffed out their chest, realized that we were ready for them and unwilling to change our course, and so they turned tail and I-ran back to their shores. Many U.S. sailors, airmen, and Marines have witnessed this dance fight so often that it rarely makes the news or the nightly conversation on the mess decks.
I am far from a subject matter expert on Iranian military capabilities or U.S.-Iranian relations. However, after several years in the surface fleet and close to a decade in the SEAL teams, I can tell you this: a real war with the Iranians would hardly be the mother of all wars. Quite simply, they do not have the weaponry, manpower, defense budget, or world-class training to compete with the top-ranked United States military. It would be over very shortly and, despite the tough talk and bluster by the Iranian regime this week, they are well aware of this fact, which is why an all-out war will likely never happen.
To make a comparison, the Iraqi vs. Iran war lasted 8 years and ended in a cease-fire. How long did it take the U.S. to defeat the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War? You get my point.
I can also tell you this: the episode we saw not too long ago where the Iranians boarded a U.S. vessel and held an American crew hostage will NOT happen while President Trump is our commander-in-chief. That was only a reality because the wise and very observant regime sensed weakness permeating from the Obama White House as the Middle East on fire caused by our poorly planned and telegraphed withdrawal from the region.
Never mind that shameful episode where our commander-in-chief drew a red line in the sand on national television and then did nothing when our adversaries called our bluff and danced all over it. The sleeping tiger the Japanese were afraid of waking up was found spineless, toothless, and unwilling to engage. Just like the fast boats that never attacked our battle groups during my time in the service under the leadership of George W. Bush, the Iranians will never launch a direct military assault on the U.S. under this president. With this regime, we must be mindful of indirect and covert threats.
The Iranians will continue to attack us, aka the “great Satan,” with terrorism and unconventional and cyberwarfare to avoid openly doing exactly what they warned us of, playing with the real lion’s tail. I do believe that when the dust from this international Twitter spat settles, punctuated with all caps, our citizens will once again be reminded that peace through strength works just as much today as it did under the great Ronald Reagan.
Eli Crane is the founder and CEO of Bottle Breacher, a former Navy SEAL, and a current Fox News Analyst. He is a Christian, Husband, Father, keynote speaker, contributor at entrepreneur.com, and member of the Advisory Committee Veterans Business Affairs (ACVBA).