U.S. warplanes hit targets in eastern Syria yesterday, linked to Iranian-backed Shia militia groups in Iraq that were responsible for a rocket attack against U.S. contractors on February 15. One non-American contractor was killed in that attack and several Americans were injured.
One hospital source in Iraq said that 17 militia fighters were killed in the attack.
“At President (Joe) Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted air strikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
“President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”
He said the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
After the strikes, the Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers spoke and underlined “the need of the West to adhere to U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Syria,” Iranian government website Dolat.ir said.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the strikes was meant as a signal that Washington wanted to punish the militias but did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.
Iran thanks the Biden administration for the “signal” and would like to inquire what their militias — under the command of Iranian officers — can do to American forces without having it “spiral into a bigger conflict”?
Biden has set limits and Iran will now test those limits to the utmost. This kind of “proportional response” was tried by Israel for several decades in the 20th century and met with limited success. They finally realized that when you hit an implacable adversary like the PLO — or the Iranians for that matter — you hit them hard so they can’t get off the canvas.
It’s a good thing that Biden retaliated, but the U.S.-Iran conflict is long-past signal-sending.
Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, said the strikes “remind Iran, its proxies, and our adversaries around the world that attacks on U.S. interests will not be tolerated.”
Suzanne Maloney, of the Brookings Institution think tank, declared the strikes a “Good move” on Twitter, saying they showed the Biden administration could both negotiate with Iran on the nuclear deal and push back against the militias Tehran backed.
This is a familiar ballet where both sides know the other isn’t going to provoke a wider conflict unless forced to, so they dance around the limits of what would be acceptable behavior.
The U.S. violated those limits by assassinating the Iranian terrorist Qassem Soleimani and crippling both the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah. And Iran did little to retaliate. It makes you wonder what would so anger Iran that they would unleash a serious barrage on U.S. targets in the Middle East.
The U.S. strikes solved nothing and changed nothing. But it shows Biden can be “presidential” and the media is eating it up.