A Rare Strategic Mistake

Or, as one of my readers puts it, The Great Iranian Fuck Up.

As many of you have probably noticed, the Houthis launched a cruise missile yesterday at a UAE nuclear plant under construction. This might not necessarily have serious implications, but just the fact that it happened is very, very serious.

Let me be clear. I don't think much will come of this. The Saudis already accuse Iran of supplying the Houthis with ballistic missiles that are launched at Riyadh. But this missile failed 50 km after launch, so the initial effects will be muted. But there is still the "smoking gun" effect. This is unequivocally a Soumar. The shape of the engine, the way it is launched... it exudes the Soumar and try as I might, I could not find a reasonable alternative. The Saudis will be able to run with this, to put more pressure on Iran, and probably up the blockade on Yemen. But in the end, they've been rambling on enough about Iran supposedly transferring weapons to the Houthis. And no, there won't be a war. Let's get real here, the Saudi armament program is not complete. They aren't going to go to war over a failed missile attack by a non-state actor.

But Iran has to have a good, hard look at itself. This is the sort of thing I usually criticise MBS for - poorly thought out, rash decisions. With this action, Iran's plausible deniability in Yemen, and indeed the region, goes completely out of the window. And to be honest, I don't blame the accusers. This is 2000 km ranged strategic cruise missile. It originated as a nuclear missile. This transfer is unprecedented, not Syria, not Venezuela, not Hezbollah, no-one has ever got anything like this from Iran.

I see 3 possible ways this could have happened. The first is the unthinkable... that this was a decided from the very top. The highest levels of decision making ordering this would explain how Iran managed to get such a large, complex weapon system out to Yemen, but it is extremely uncharacteristic of Iran's usually low-risk, measured actions.

Another possibility is that a rogue element within the IRGC got this missile to Yemen. That would certainly explain the craziness of sending a Soumar to the Yemenis (imagine the Americans sending a Tomahawk to the SDF), but not explain how someone with enough clout to get a strategic asset from the IRGC-ASF to be moved to Yemen using the Quds Force. Those are two large, important organisations. You wouldn't expect someone with enough power to "get things done" in both those organisations to go rogue.

And finally, is the explanation that sits uncomfortably with me, as in, I feel like I'm some sort of Western "journalist", but here I go: there is the possibility of corruption, that the IRGC might feel like isolating Iran through conducting needlessly provocative actions could be beneficial politically and economically for the IRGC.

I won't speculate on which is right or wrong because we haven't heard from the governments on either side, and honestly I have no clue what happened in Iran for this to be the result. But the leadership certainly has to conduct some sort of review and realise how bad this looks and how it goes against so many of Iran's strategies. Just think what would have happened if this missile had struck, if it had killed civilians. Think what would happen if Iran started exporting strategic weapons to other militias in the region. We would be isolated very fast.

This is a real oddity of an incident.