February 27, 2024

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The US wants to deter Iran with its airstrikes

The US wants to deter Iran with its airstrikes

The Americans bombed 85 targets along the border between Syria and Iraq. This is a message to Iran and its allies to avoid further attacks on US bases. They are unlikely to change the overall situation.

In late December, the United States launched airstrikes against the Iraqi militant group Hezbollah, killing several of its fighters. But this did not deter the militants permanently.

Thayer Al-Sudani / Reuters

Attacks are not surprising, but they are hard, fast and accurate. On Saturday night, US bombers and fighter jets hit 85 targets in 7 locations – 4 in Syria and 3 in Iraq. The midnight strikes were directed primarily against military positions of the Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps along the Syrian-Iraq border. An important Iranian supply route for the Syrian regime and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon runs through the Euphrates.

The strike was in response to a drone attack on Tower 22, a US military base on the border between Jordan and Syria. Three US soldiers were killed when a drone crashed into a residential building on an army base last Sunday. Although the origin of the drone was initially unclear, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would retaliate — at a time and in a form it chooses.

So the Iranians and their allies were warned. Anticipating retaliatory attacks, the Quds Force has reportedly withdrawn its personnel from the area, while leaders of pro-Iranian militias have reportedly gone into hiding. The US attacks seem precisely calculated to restore deterrence without fully escalating the conflict. In particular, the Pentagon refrained from direct attacks against Iran.

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Both parties express a desire to maintain control

After the attacks, Biden insisted America does not seek conflict In the Near East. But whenever Americans are attacked, they react. And the The Iranian leadership has already made it clearThey do not like war, but will not tolerate attacks on their territory. General Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said on Wednesday: “We say to them: You tested us on the battlefield, we tested you. [. . .] Although we do not seek war, we neither fear nor shy away from war.

Kataib Hizbullah, the Iraqi militant group suspected of being behind the drone attack on the US military base, announced two days later that it would refrain from further attacks in order not to expose the government in Baghdad. Since the Middle East conflict escalated following Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, pro-Iranian militants have carried out more than 160 drone and missile strikes on US bases in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon.

In response, the Americans have launched strikes against militants in Iraq and Syria in recent months. It was only at the end of December that the US bombed Three Mandatory Hezbollah Facilities in Iraq In response to the drone strike in Erbil. The US has been attacking Houthi militia positions in Yemen since January in response to attacks on ships in the Red Sea. So far, it has not forced regime change in Sana'a.

US wants to block Iranian supply routes

Attacks on US bases in Iraq by members of the so-called “opposition axis” have distressed the Iraqi government of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. After all, America is an ally of the government. There are still 2,500 soldiers in Iraq to support the fight against remaining Islamic State (IS) cells. The presence of 900 Americans at the al-Tanf base in Syria and the Kurdish northeast is also justified by the fight against jihadists.

The al-Tanf base, in the Syrian desert near the Iraqi border, is intended to block Iranian supplies via the road from Baghdad to Damascus. The site is therefore a thorn in the side of the Syrian regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It has been the target of attacks for years. The attack on Tower 22 was also in this context. The site in Jordan, just behind the Syrian border, is primarily used to supply Al-Tanf.

US retaliatory strikes on Saturday night were directed against command centers, weapons depots and bunkers near the Syrian cities of Deir al-Zour, al-Mayadeen and Albu Kamal. On the Iraqi side of the border, facilities near the town of al-Qaim were hit, as was the headquarters of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (also known as Hashd al-Shaabi militias) in a desert settlement to the south.

Iranians are trained in strategic patience

Governments in Baghdad and Damascus condemned the attacks as a violation of their sovereignty. Tehran said the attacks would cause further instability and tension in the region. Iraqi officials said 16 people were killed. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 29 people belonging to pro-Iranian militias have been killed in Syria. The NGO has counted 107 attacks on US bases in Syria, including the oil and gas fields around al-Danf, Hasakah and Deir al-Sur.

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The question now is whether the retaliatory strikes will end this round of conflict. Biden has said that the attack is just beginning. But if the Iranians and their allies back off, the Americans can also avoid further strikes. It is clear that much more will be required to drive the Iranians from the Syria-Iraq border region. Kuts forces have expanded their presence there over the years.

Iranians are trained in strategic patience. The Israeli Air Force has been bombing command centers, weapons depots and Quds Brigade convoys in Syria since 2017 to cut off supplies to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. Countless members of the Quds Force were killed in hundreds of attacks. Israel has repeatedly killed Iranian generals in Damascus. Nevertheless, Iranians generally refrain from retaliating.

So it is not necessarily the case that the current retaliatory attacks will provoke a strong reaction from the Iranians. They are aware of their weakness and want to constantly expand their position. At the same time, it is doubtful that the “opposition print” will be deterred for long. The Americans have often carried out similar attacks against militants. In late October, warplanes hit military bases near Abu Kamal. Since then, there have been about a hundred strikes on US bases in Syria.