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U.S. And U.K. Launch New Strikes Against Houthi Targets; Iran To U.N.: U.S. Strikes Make It Difficult To Find Political Solution; Officials: Biden Approved Saturday Strikes Earlier This Week; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Discusses U.S.-Led Coalition Strikes On Houthis. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 17:00   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt in New York in for Jim Acosta. Thank you so much for joining us.

There's lots of breaking news out of the Middle East today.

The U.S. and the United Kingdom have launched a new round of air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen hitting at least 30 targets across nearly a dozen different locations.

Now, this comes just a day after the U.S. launched retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militant groups in both Syria and Iraq following that deadly drone attack on U.S. soldiers in Jordan last weekend.

The U.S. says that it hit 85 targets linked to Iran-backed militants in the first round of strikes. Iranian officials now warning the United States is making what they call a strategic mistake that could fuel further conflict in the region.

Let's get straight to CNN's Oren Liebermann who had been reporting on all of this from the Pentagon.

So Oren, what are you learning about these latest strikes? These 30 different strikes against the Houthis today?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Alex, we just got more information in a joint statement from several countries. Strikes led by the U.S. and the U.K., the third time we have seen those two countries carry out kinetic strikes effectively attacked together, backed by a number of other countries -- Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and again the U.K. and the U.S.

Here in their joint statement they say, "Our aim remains to deescalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea. But let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership, we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways in the face of continued threats. So what did we learn about the strikes themselves? 36 Houthi targets

across 13 locations in Yemen. So you see there again larger strikes than we have seen the U.S. carry out on its own. Here using the U.K. and those other countries supporting as well a number of different locations as well as dozens of targets.

Today's strikes specifically went after what they called deeply-buried weapons storage facilities. That is the second time we have seen them target underground weapons storage facilities, as well as missile systems and launchers, air defense systems and radars.

So a broad, powerful attempt to try to go after the Houthis' ability to target and threaten, frankly, international shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, some of the most critical waterways there.

Alex, I'll point out just one more thing about this statement. It specifically mentions one incident that has truly caught the eye of this coalition. And that is the January 27th attack on the Marshall Islands flag oil tanker the Marlin Luanda.

The reason that's important is because the Houthis successfully hit that ship, set it on fire forcing it to issue a distress signal. The U.S. and other countries responding to that incident and that underscores the threat and the danger here that the U.S. and this coalition see in these ongoing Houthi attacks on commercial vessels and on U.S. warships.

MARQUARDT: And Oren, when it comes to the strikes on Friday night in Iraq and Syria, we have seen U.S. retaliation in Iraq and Syria before. This was the biggest response that we've seen due to the deaths of the service members last weekend.

But the administration is making clear that whatever destruction, whatever degradation of capabilities happened yesterday, that was just the first move.

LIEBERMANN: In the words of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, this is the start of our response. It's not over. They're certainly not telegraphing when further responses will come or what they might look like.

But at least they're giving a hint that they will be more powerful than what we've seen. Not only in the number of targets struck. More than 85 across seven different locations across Iraq and Syria but also in the types of platforms that were used.

Not just F-15s and F-16s, which can certainly carry their own powerful punch but here using B1 bombers, some of the largest bombers that the U.S. Air Force has flying them from the U.S. to the Middle East and I believe back to the U.S. As part of this operation non-stop.

Those can carry a much heavier payload than fighter jets and the U.S. using that ability to really try to go after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, that's the elite part of the IRGC, as well as the Iranian-backed militias in the region. It didn't happen instantly. An operation of that size takes a while to

put together. And has a number of environmental factors such a weather that affect when it can play out and when that operation can move forward. But the U.S. making clear that's not it. There is more to come.


MARQUARDT: All right. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon. Thank you so much for your reporting. Keep us posted on what you're learning.

LIEBERMANN: Of course.

MARQUARDT: Joining me now is CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. So Colonel Leighton, give us some more context on these strikes. Where they took place.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: All right, Alex. Yes, of course the key thing here is Yemen. Right here, this country is the one because it controls access to the Red Sea, which is this body of water right here. And this is the Gulf of Aden right in this area.

So the key elements here as Oren was pointing out, at least 30 targets were struck, 10 locations. An underground weapons facility was among those targets.

That is a key point here because when you're looking at this, there's a thing called hardened and deeply-buried targets.

This could be one of those where you have a storage facility that may have had some concrete and placed over it. Very hard to hit from a targeting perspective. This might be one of those things.

The other thing is that these of course, are the weapons that are used by the Houthis to target international shipping in this particular area right here.

MARQUARDT: And Cedric, what more do we know about the assets that were used in these strikes today?

LEIGHTON: So as far as we know right now, one of the assets, one of the most important assets, is the F/A-18 Hornet. This is really the flag ship if you will in terms of fighter jets for the U.S. Navy. It is a Mach 1.8 capable jet. And it has an aerial refueling capability, has precision-guided missiles which are really important. And it also has a 20-millimeter cannon that can handle all of these different types of weapons including laser guided bombs, one of these (INAUDIBLE) weapons doing the direct attack munitions. And it can be used not only for combat air patrol, but also for ground attack.

And that's precisely what this particular weapons system did for these attacks in Yemen.

MARQUARDT: Colonel, as Oren was just pointing out, the U.S. making clear the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary saying this is just the start of this response. So what more do we know about the U.S. presence, the military presence

across the Middle East?

LEIGHTON: Yes. So as far as the U.S. military presence across the Middle East is concerned, we're basically deployed through all of these areas here. So one of the key things to know is high concentrations of forces in places like Qatar 10,000; Bahrain where you have the Fifth Fleet 9,000 troops; 13,500 in Kuwait.

Basically about 50,000 troops that are deployed in either in or around the Middle East. And this doesn't even count the Navy folks that are in and around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, if they're afloat. We have 3,000 in Jordan; even 800 in Syria and of course, 2,500 in Iraq.

So these are important areas for the U.S. to be in because these are the people that actually protect U.S. interests in this region.

MARQUARDT: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, I want you to stay with us as I bring in the rest of the panel.

David Sanger, I want to go to you first. What do you know, what do we know about what the administration is doing? How they are trying to walk this very careful line of deterrence while not ratcheting things up in such a way that things will spiral out of control.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. This has been the line they've been trying to walk the entire time and there's no science to it, right? You are trying to measure how different countries are going to respond.

So far, based on what happened last night with the attacks in Syria and Iraq, I would have to say the responses have been pretty mild. The Iranian predictably came out and condemned it. Said as you noted earlier that the United States is making a strategic error. There was no vow of retaliation.

Every indication we got is that the Iranians do not want to get into direct conflict with the United States or Israel. They've got their own interests to protect.

What we haven't seen yet is the proxy groups themselves saying whether or not they will back off as one of the most prominent ones, the Kata'ib Hezbollah earlier this week. Now they did that under pressure.

And we'll only know whether the deterrent part of this is working when we see what kind of response, if any, there is. I think the attacks today on the Houthis are designed because the Houthis have shown in the past they have not been deterred. And so the only choice really left is to try to take out all of their weapon stores, which is a really tall order.


MARQUARDT: Kim Dozier, to David's point about Iran indicating that they don't want a conflict either, how do you read the signals that we have heard from Iran in the past week as they anticipated this U.S. response and what we heard from them since about the U.S. committing a strategic mistake.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, after the first volley of strikes in Iraq and Syria, their initial response was to condemn the action but not to promise retaliation. Now we've got a series of strikes against their other major proxy in the region, the Houthis.

And so I think as this drum beat of strikes goes on, it's going to be harder and harder for them to stay reserved, especially when U.S. administration officials specifically call them out saying we are hitting Iranian Revolution Guard-related targets and promised more to come.

MARQUARDT: And Beth Sanner, I want to ask you about Iran and the Red Sea. When you look at the proxy groups across the region and Iran's influence on them, Iran doesn't have a lot to lose by telling those groups to antagonize the U.S. in Iraq and Syria, to tell Hezbollah essentially to start scaring up a bit of a skirmish with Israel along that northern border.

But the Red Sea, that is truly a global issue. So what pressure do you think that Iran would now be feeling to in turn pressure the Houthis to stop doing what they're doing because of their alliances, their relationships with countries like India and China?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Well, you know, this was supposed to be a subject we heard from press reports between national security adviser Sullivan and the most senior Chinese Communist Party or policy person Wang Yi, during their meeting in Bangkok last weekend.

And you know, we've heard that China has told Iran that you know, you need to pressure the Houthis to stop doing this because you know, most of this trade that's being disrupted is the trade between China and Europe. And we all know the Chinese economy is not going so well, right?

But we've also heard the Houthis saying we haven't gotten any pressure. So you know, obviously the (INAUDIBLE) being applied as a lever over Iran from China or India. They're not threatening anything serious enough for Iran really to go hard on the Houthis.

So pretty much everybody has to step up a lot more to get Iran to threaten the Houthis to stop. But I don't think that's happened yet.

MARQUARDT: And General Hertling, why is it so important for the U.S. to gather a group of other nations, a coalition to carry out these strikes against the Houthis?

The U.S. is willing to respond to these Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria by itself and yet it has taken a lot of steps to make clear that this is an international effort that it's leading.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. And especially against the Houthis because of their threats to the shipping lane, Alex. One of the key points in all this, the United States struck hard last night with United States assets in Iraq and Syria.

Today, and I was waiting for the report that Oren just gave and I expected to hear exactly what he said, that it was a multinational coalition going against the Houthis in Yemen. That's critically important because it not only is a way to show we're protecting these global shipping lanes and there's the coalition right there.

But it also says to Iran there are a lot of nations aligned against you. And even some of your allies as Beth just said, like China, don't want you doing the kinds of things you're doing in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden because it is going to disrupt the economy.

Now, when you look at that list of different nations that contributed to strike, I would suggest and I don't know this for sure, I'm guessing but it was probably the United States and Great Britain supplying the strike aircraft.

But all the rest of those other six countries were probably supplying intelligence, command and control of the aircraft from AWACS, refueling operation and intelligence.

That tells me that the kinds of coalitions we've worked hard to build and to counter these kind of terrorist groups come together very quickly.

It also says to me and it kind of refutes all the commentary we've heard from some in our legislative body about why has it taken five days and why did you announce what you're going to do. This is the reason why.

It's hard to put something like this together. You just don't snap your finger and have suddenly a bunch of jets taking off bombing targets.

That intelligence picture is there. They have the target packages but it takes a little time to pull these different air forces together and naval forces together.


HERTLING: Here's the last thing I'd say, when Cedric was at the map a minute ago and showed all the places where the United States was, those aren't just soldiers. Those are Naval, Air Force, U.S. Army forces in different countries in great masses.

And I'll pick one as an example because I know it's the best. The 13,000 forces in Kuwait is the CentCom reserve force. They are there to act upon a moment's notice when the CentCom commander needs a couple of brigades to go into action. The same thing is true for the Air Force and the Naval Forces.

So all of these things are part of a bigger plan and again, because the nations are so complex in that area, the complications and the planning is tough, too. MARQUARDT: All right. Well, we have a lot more to discuss about these

twin strikes by the U.S. in Iraq and Syria and then against the Houthis in Yemen with that international coalition. Not to mention the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

I ask you all to stay with us. We'll be right back with more breaking news coverage right after this.



MARQUARDT: And we have more breaking news just in to CNN.

Iran has now responded to the U.S.-led coalition strikes today against at least 36 Houthi targets in Yemen.

CNN's Nic Robertson has the details. So Nic, what is Iran saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Iran's foreign minister was meeting in Tehran with the U.N.'s special representative on Yemen and told him quite specifically that the U.S. strikes were going to make it harder to reach peace in the region.

This is obviously an articulation of Iran's view that the United States is backing Israel. That United States is part of the problem in the region and rather overlooks the fact that Iran has -- is widely seen as essentially convincing, if you will, the Houthis to begin these attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

So what Iran is saying by the United States trying to, along with allies and partners, trying to keep these busy, important economic shipping routes open through the Red Sea, is going to make it harder to find peace across the whole region.

And by implication, I think we can understand the Iranians mean in Gaza with Hamas which is also a proxy of Iran.

But this is quite a strong comment coming from the Iranian foreign minister to put this in such blunt terms. It's not perhaps shocking and it's not perhaps entirely new, but this is a very immediate response to what Iran is seeing -- is seeing happening at the moment with these U.S. strikes in Yemen.

MARQUARDT: Beth Sanner, can I ask what you make of this statement? I'm reading it that the U.S. government's military approach has made it more difficult to reach a political solution.

SANNER: I think it's you know, kind of a threat. It's trying to get us to back down and to stop. And you know, ok, it's a little true, but you know, they are part of the equation. The Houthis are part of the equation. Hamas is part of the equation.

So, you know, this is about choices. And I think that, you know, we have to understand that a lot of this is just threats, talks, bargaining, pressure, right? And you know, we just have to kind of keep doing what we need to do, to put as General Hurtling just said, you know, we have to respond.

MARQUARDT: And David Sanger, we now know that there was significant kinetic action taken last night against these groups in Iraq and Syria as well as the IRGC and the Quds force. The Pentagon, the administration saying that this was just really a first salvo, that there will be more waves of this response.

You have done a lot of reporting around what the U.S. and Israel do against Iran when it comes to cyber strikes. To what extent do you think that cyber is going to be part of what the U.S. does now?

SANGER: It appears to have been part of a coordinated action with the kinetic strikes last night. But we haven't really gotten the dimensions of what that was yet. Famously the United States in the past has hit the Iranian nuclear program. The Stuxnet virus that was 14, 15 years ago. That was a big covert program.

This would be more of an overt use of cyber to go alongside the kinetic action. The most interesting question, which we don't know the answer to yet, is did they do this inside Iran.

Because for the kinetic activity, they were very careful to stay outside of Iran borders. The next step up could be targeting IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operations outside of Iran and particularly IRGC officers.

But we don't know yet whether they have been overt in their cyber strikes just in that region or inside Iran yet. And it usually takes a few days, sometimes a few weeks before you understand whether or not that in fact occurred.

MARQUARDT: Yes. That's a very good point. The U.S. May be willing to take kinetic action against Iranian interests outside of the country while doing the same on the cyber front inside the country.

SANGER: That's right.

MARQUARDT: Kim Dozier, we have perhaps predictably heard criticism of how the administration is handling this coming from Republicans saying that the administration is not being aggressive enough.


MARQUARDT: We've heard Republican senators who have been working the national security space for a long time urging the administration to strike Iran directly, to strike inside Iran. What do you make of those suggestions?

DOZIER: Well, the longer these strikes go on and more targets that are hit, even if they're outside of Iran, it's going to be harder for the GOP to make the argument that the Biden administration is just letting Iranian-inspired violence go by.

But as U.S. operators will tell you, what they're doing right now with these strikes is essentially mowing the grass. They did give top Iranian commanders who might have been advising these groups, several days to get out of the way.

So what they're likely striking now are weapons that were too heavy to move. Facilities that are built in place. So that it will frustrate future attacks, but it's not going to prevent them.

I would argue that even if the fighting in Gaza stops, basically Iran has these groups programmed, primed across the region, ready for whatever provocation that it decides is a reason to attack U.S. interests.

So this might slow them down but from the perspective of the Iranian in Tehran who have sort of a long view of this, this is the long war and the long game. They'll just wait for the next opportunity.

MARQUARDT: All right. Everyone stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We have heard more from the White House about the recent strikes.

We'll have more on that right after this break. Stay with us.




MARQUARDT: All right, there's more breaking news into the CNN NEWSROOM. We are getting new information from the White House about the U.S.-led coalition's strikes on 36 Houthi targets in Yemen earlier today.

Priscilla Alvarez is in Los Angeles where the president is holding a fundraising event later this evening.

Priscilla, what are you hearing from the White House?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Alex, two senior administration officials tell me President Biden gave the green light for these strikes to happen earlier this week.

Now, they also stress to me that this is separate from those retaliatory measures the U.S. took on Friday in response to servicemembers being killed in Jordan. Those strikes hitting the 85 targets in Iraq and Syria.

This is separate. This is part of those ongoing actions to defend U.S. vessels and commercial vessels in the Red Sea as the Houthis have continued to attack those.

Of course, this is also part of that coalition that includes several countries. And the U.S. here taking additional actions and senior administration officials tell me this is part of this ongoing campaign.

This is the third set of strikes they have taken with this coalition. It all goes to speak to the urgency of the moment and also the urgency of the situation that is unfolding there.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said these actions by the Houthis can really risk and threaten the global economy because, again, it just affects the way that commercial vessels are operating in that region.

Now, it appears these strikes did happen when President Biden was visiting his campaign headquarters in Delaware earlier today. The president is currently en route to Los Angeles for campaign fundraisers tonight.

But again, learning that President Biden did give the green light for these strikes to happen earlier this week. That, according to senior administration officials -- Alex?

MARQUARDT: Clearly anticipating more activity in the Red Sea from the Houthis.

Thank you so much, Priscilla Alvarez, in Los Angeles, where the president will be.

We are staying with this breaking news. We have lots more after a quick break. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: We continue to follow breaking news. The U.S. and a coalition of other countries have just struck more than 30 Houthi targets in Yemen.

I want to bring our panel back in.

This, of course, comes after Friday's U.S. strikes against Iraq and Syria, against militants there, I should emphasize.

But, Nic, this brings up the issue that the U.S. is now having with Iraq, or rather Iraq is having with the U.S.

We've heard a lot of anger from Iraq about the U.S. carrying out these strikes inside their country. Most notably a strike in Baghdad that took out a senior militant commander.

Where will that conversation go, do you think?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it's already gone quite a distance because there's already been discussions between the Pentagon and other U.S. officials with the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government is very heavily influenced, not only by these Iranian-backed militias, but by Iranian political strains, if you will. The Iranian are leaning heavily on the Iraqis to get U.S. forces out of Iraq.

And the Iraqi government is saying that the actions last night by the United States were a violation of sovereignty, a violation of the U.N. charter.

And this will probably further add to these discussions that are already under way for the United States to draw down its 2,500-troop presence inside of Iraq.

Which, we'll remember, all troops were pulled out in 2011. It was only a couple of years later that ISIS began to take huge swaths of Iraq. U.S. troops went back in to take on and stamp out the ISIS threat, which took quite a while.

So the Iraqi government, being leaned on by Iran, is really going to double down on that message. Iran's aim here is to get the United States out of the region.

And it will further the military actions on the ground by targeting U.S. troops or with its proxies and further it politically by pressuring the Iraqi government to pressure the United States to pull its troops out quickly.

This is an issue that is only going to get, I think, more worse, if you will, and more heated at the moment.

MARQUARDT: Colonel Cedric Leighton, how much would it diminish U.S. military capabilities in the Middle East if the U.S. had to pull out of Iraq?

LEIGHTON: That's a really great question, Alex. So if we had to pull out of Iraq, we would be forced to basically rely on places like Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain to handle our military needs and requirements in the Persian Gulf area.

For the greater Middle East, we might be able to still keep some forces in Saudi Arabia.


But what it would also dol is it would limit our ability to supply and to maintain our forces, the 800 or so that we have in Syria right now.

And the supply line for those forces goes through Iraq. And that would really decimate the fight against ISIS at that particular point.

MARQUARDT: And, David Sanger, we just heard from our White House correspondent, Priscilla Alvarez, who was telling us that the White House is clearly seeing today's strikes against the Houthis in Yemen and last night's strikes in Iraq and Syria as separate.

Do you think the White House truly believes all of this is separate? That they can silo these when clearly all of these different flare ups happened in the wake of the October 7th attacks in Israel?

SANGER: I don't think you can silo them.

Look, they're playing three-dimensional chess right now. There's a political element to all of this, which is they've got to get some peace and quiet in the region if there's going to be any hope of negotiating with Hamas on a ceasefire or a pause and a prisoner release, which is the discussion that's going on in the background right now.

It's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg thing. Because if you can get that ceasefire, you might get more quiet in the Red Sea and among these Hezbollah groups both in Lebanon and in Iraq and Syria.

And you might get that because the Palestinian issue and particularly the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has been the inciting issue.

But the second part of this is that there are a lot of election politics underway. You've been hearing Republicans and former President Trump make the case that President Biden has been too cautious. He's moved too slowly and hasn't gone after the head of the snake. Meaning Iran.

Well, neither did President Trump. When he had the opportunity to go do that on several occasions, he got concerned about escalation as well. So they are all related.

That doesn't mean these attacks happen under the Central Command of the Iranians. But we had a period of peace and quiet between the summer and October 7th thanks to a quiet agreement reached with Iran.

MARQUARDT: All right.

I'm going to ask you all to stay with us.

Coming up next, we're going to speak to a lawmaker, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: We are continuing to follow the breaking news tonight. U.S.-led coalition forces struck 36 Houthi targets in Yemen this evening just one day after a series of airstrikes against Iranian- backed militant targets in Iraq and Syria. That was last night.

Iran is now responding to the attacks, saying that the U.S. strikes make it difficult to reach a political solution in the region.

I want to bring in Congressman John Garamendi. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

I want to ask you specifically about the strikes in Iraq and Syria. These were the biggest ones we've seen in response to militant activity against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.

But how far do you think this first step goes in the administration's mission to deter these militants from further attacks?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, you said it very, very well. This is the first step. Actually, it's not the first step. There have been strikes over the last several years, both in the Trump administration as well as the Biden administration.

This is another step but not the final step. I think that's the major point here. There will be additional strikes in the days ahead. The president has been very clear, at this time and choosing, there will be additional strikes.

Also, we need to keep in mind the Houthis, which are operating in the Red Sea, are also part of the axis of resistance, which are these terrorists proxy organizations set up by Iran, supported by Iran, and now energized as a result of the Hamas-Israeli war.

MARQUARDT: So how much do you see these different fronts, Iraq and Syria, being one, Yemen and the Houthis being another, how separate do you see them?

GARAMENDI: They're not separate. They're all part of the same strategy. As I said a moment ago, they call themselves the axis of resistance. Resistance to Israel. And the Hamas-Israel war has energized that resistance.

Most of these recent attacks, 170 or so, really occurred following the October incursion by Hamas into Israel. And so now we're facing this entire region pushing back, sending a message.

The United States is sending an even stronger message. First of all, don't mess with America. Don't kill Americans. There will be serious consequences. And we saw that yesterday as well as today.

We should expect the president to continue to order specific strikes against these terrorist proxy organizations.


I do not believe we should, nor do I believe the president will strike into Iran. But certainly, those elements of the Iran operation that are in Syria, Iraq, as well as in the Arabian Peninsula in the Yemen area.

MARQUARDT: You noted, sir, that there were attacks by these militant groups in Iraq and Syria before October 7th.

But am I understanding you correctly that if you think the war in Gaza were to end, that these other regional flare ups would also go away?

GARAMENDI: No. No. They haven't. This dates back to the 1980s. When the Marine barracks or hotel in Lebanon was destroyed and a couple of hundred Marines were killed.

This is not new. This has been ongoing. The attacks on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, all part of the same.

And it all goes back to the same place. It goes back to Iran. And they are the principal source of trouble.

Will it die down? Well, it was -- certainly rose to a higher level as a result of the Israeli-Hamas war. Will it recede? Possibly.

But the United States is sending a very strong message now. That, don't mess with America. That message is, I'm sure, being received on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and in the Yemen area.

Also, we need to understand that Iran is creating problems in other parts of this region. Pakistan, specifically. And they've always been messing around in Afghanistan.

So the fundamental question here is what to do with Iran. And we have opportunities available to us. And that is the alliance that has been built was in process of being made even stronger in the Biden period.

The Abraham Accords are part of that, bringing together Israel, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, as well as recognizing the critical role that Turkey plays in all of this and, of course, Egypt. And on the other further east, India.

So those alliances are critically important. And we should also be aware that Iran is a major supplier of weapons to Russia.



GARAMENDI: There's the heart of the problem.

MARQUARDT: If, as you say --


MARQUARDT: -- this goes to the '80s with Iran, how would you like to see the Biden administration try to deter those Iranian efforts without crossing a line, which I believe is what you're saying, to essentially start an all-out war with Iran?

GARAMENDI: Well, start with the "would have, could have, should have." The Obama administration actually was working very diligently to terminate and to stop Iran's progress towards nuclear weapon.

And in that process, there were other elements that were having some success and dampening down Iran's enthusiasm. Of course, Trump terminated that. And now Iran is continuing its nuclear weapons program. So that's one major problem out there.

But again, it's the alliances that we need to build in the area. Isolating Iran.

Unfortunately, the George W. Bush administration decided to take out Saddam Hussein, who was a major enemy of Iran. But that's yesterday and that's gone.

So now we need to rebuild those alliances. We need to strengthen the Iraqi government and allow that to be a bullwork against Iran.

So this is part of the long-term strategy. It's not going to be solved quickly. To get into a land war with Iran would be a major and significantly greater effort than we had to do in both -- Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

MARQUARDT: Congressman Garamendi, we only have a couple of moments left, but what would you like to see from Secretary Blinken as he heads to the region in terms of making sure that a ceasefire is reached? We only have a couple of moments.

GARAMENDI: Stop the bombing. Get the ceasefire underway. Begin the process of building the two states.

MARQUARDT: All right. Congressman John Garamendi, thank you so much, sir.

Next, we are getting our first reaction --

GARAMENDI: Thank you.


MARQUARDT: -- from the Houthis after this latest wave of airstrikes. We will have live team coverage, up next. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MARQUARDT: And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt, in New York, in tonight for Jim Acosta. Thank you so much for joining us.

We begin this hour with breaking news in the Middle East. As the United States and United Kingdom have launched together a new round of airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The two countries hit 36 targets across some 13 locations.

Senior Biden administration officials say the president approved these strikes earlier this week.


The secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, is calling it a clear message and saying that the U.S. will not hesitate to defend the free flow of commerce in that vital waterway, the Red Sea.

But Iran warns the U.S. is fueling further conflict in the region.