From single attacks on U.S. navy ships by the British in the early 1800s, through more recent terrorist attacks like the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, the navy is a tempting target for America’s enemies. Were an enemy force, particularly a non-state actor like al-Qaida, ISIS, or the Houthi rebels of Yemen to actually sink a U.S. Navy ship, that would be valuable propaganda for the attacker.
A complicating factor in this latest attack is the fact that the Shiite Houthi rebels, native to northern Yemen, are allied to, and supplied by, Iran. In the current iteration of the Yemen War, the Houthis are fighting the former Yemen government (the rebels currently hold the capital city), who are aided by troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states. Plus, all sides in this conflict are also fighting against the radical Sunni Jihadist groups al-Qaida and ISIS.
The Pentagon is saying that the USS Mason deployed three counter-fire missiles in defense of itself and the nearby and nearby USS Ponce, and at this point it is still unclear if one of the enemy missiles was taken down by the ship’s counter-fire.
A week earlier, a Houthi-launched cruise missile severely damaged the UAE-leased HSV Swift – an unarmed aluminum high-speed transport vessel used to move supplies and wounded from the Yemen warzone.
Below is a video, allegedly created by the Yemeni rebels, showing the attack on the HSV Swift
While the Pentagon continues to investigate exactly what happened with the attack on the USS Mason, some sort of retaliatory strike by the U.S. is bound to occur. Curiously, the last successful attack on a U.S. Navy vessel in Yemeni waters, the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, also occurred in the waning days of a contentious American presidential campaign. If it turns out that Iran had a direct role in the Houthi attack on a U.S. Navy ship, the repercussions of this attack could be significant throughout the entire Middle East. If all of these dominoes line up, the there could be a significant impact on the U.S. election, especially if President Obama is seen to be weak on a potential retaliatory response. Hillary Clinton would likely be a strong advocate for retaliation by her ally Obama, if only to avoid allowing Donald Trump an opening to criticize the Democrats on national security issues further.