Iran Proxies Test US Limits
Biden administration picks the worst time for mixed messages.
Even media outlets considered measured in their reporting on the Biden administration cannot account for its weak response to Iranian proxy militias attacking US military bases in the Middle East. When Hamas invaded Israel in a murderous rampage, President Biden talked tough and sent two carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean. In defiant response, Iran-sponsored militants executed drone and rocket strikes on US outposts in Iraq and Syria.
Iran Proxies Attack US Bases
New Banner Military AffairsThe United States has exercised restraint in its retaliation against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, which pummeled US bases nearly 20 times with drones and rockets in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. In response, “US F-15 and F-16 jets dropped guided bombs on nine ammunition and storage bunkers in Deir al-Zour in the early hours of Wednesday [Oct. 25], military officials said,” David Gritten reported for BBC News. “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the jets targeted warehouses in Ayyash, about 10km (6 miles) north of Deir al-Zour city, and a camp belonging to the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a militia made up largely of Shia Muslim Afghan fighters.”
Iran-backed militants carried out three more drone attacks on US outposts after the bombings, indicating Iran and its proxies were not intimidated by the show of force. In an assessment of the Biden administration’s approach to deterring Iran from sponsoring assaults on US personnel and facilities, The Wall Street Journal explained:
“The Pentagon says the US hit two facilities in eastern Syria that are used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). But pinprick bombing of weapons and ammo lockers aren’t proportionate to the enemy attacks. Iran’s proxies have lobbed rockets or drones at US positions at least 19 times since Oct. 17 … The restrained US response is intended as a warning, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin implied more could follow if the militias keep it up.”
Well, Iran’s puppet militias did “keep it up.” Austin claimed that the “narrowly tailored strikes in self-defense were intended solely to protect and defend US personnel in Iraq and Syria. They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict.” The increase in the number of attacks by Iranian-backed proxies speaks loudly that Austin is wrong. Nor is there anything “separate and distinct” about these raids and the Israel-Hamas war.
US Sends Mixed Signals
No doubt our allies and friends are confused by the mixed signals sent by a Defense Department official in a briefing to the Pentagon press corps:
“Our strikes were carefully targeted to defend and protect US forces from the ongoing threats posed by Iran-backed militia groups. These groups, with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have been responsible for the attacks on US installations and personnel. But let’s be clear: Iran is responsible.”
So why isn’t the United States holding Iran accountable? In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) addressed Austin: “Iran has launched 83 attacks against Americans since Joe Biden took office. We’ve responded with strikes only four times. What kind of message does this send when we wait to respond until an American is killed.”
Adding the airborne hits by Iran-supported terrorist militias up until March to those of Oct. 16-27 equals 102 attacks on US military facilities. The United States has responded five times. So far the US carrier strike groups in the eastern Mediterranean are a static display of power. Until Iran directly feels the weight of US military might, Tehran will continue to use proxies to attack Americans.
By Dave Patterson
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.