The first sign of an offensive against the groups that, since the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, have intensified attacks against American troops in Syria and Iraq could soon arrive
The US air raids against two depots of pro-Iranian militias near Abu Kamal, in eastern Syria, could provide the first sign of an offensive against the groups which, since the beginning of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, have intensified attacks against American troops in Syria and Iraq. But, facing growing pressure for a broader response to these attacks, Joe Biden is weighing every decision about retaliation in fearwrites the Washington Post today, that the conflict in Gaza could spread a storm throughout the region.
It was the head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, who explained that “on orders from President Biden, US military forces conducted two self-defense raids against installations in eastern Syria used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and affiliated groups“. “These precision raids – added the US Defense Secretary – are the response to a series of continuous, and largely unsuccessful, attacks against American soldiers in Iraq and Syria by pro-Iranian groups”.
In his statement, Austin wanted to underline that Thursday night’s raids, defined as an action in self-defense, are “separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas” and do not represent a change in the United States’ attitude towards the conflict. “We must be clear, Iran is responsible – a Pentagon source further explained, quoted by Politico – what we did was an action of self-defense because our forces in the Middle Eastwhere they support security and stability, they are threatened by Iran and pro-Iranian militias“.
Attacks against US forces
According to data provided by the Pentagon, there were 19 rocket and drone attacks against US forces this month and in total 21 soldiers were injured, all in a mild way. In official statements, Biden continues to renew warnings aimed at Iran, stating that if Tehran continues “to move against” US forces in the Middle East “we will respond”, as he said during the press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the White House.
But administration sources explain Biden’s caution, underlining that if “nothing has changed in our prerogatives” of defense of soldiers deployed abroad, at the same time “we cannot be blind to the fact that there are currently other forces at stake”, with a clear reference to the conflict in Gaza and the very real risk of its expansion. Therefore, conclude the sources cited by the Post, “we must take into account the other things happening in the region”.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to strengthen its military posture in the region, sending additional missile defense systems to their bases in the Middle East. And in recent days the Wall Street Journal revealed that Israel would have agreed to postpone the land invasion of Gaza even while waiting for the positioning of these defense systems, which should happen next week.
The pressure on Biden
Pressuring Biden for an offensive against pro-Iranian groups are several Republican members of Congressto which was also added the voice of retired general Joseph Votel, former head of Centcom widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans, who warned that without a uniform response the attacks by pro-Iranian groups risk becoming “a bit of a norm”.
“We need to do it, I think we’re at a point where we probably can and should do it now,” he said, referring to additional capacity coming to the region. “We can and must respond more directly to threats against our troops,” she reiterated.
Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, a retired Marine general who also led Centcom, also emphasizes that strengthening the military presence in the region – including two aircraft carrier strike groups – must send a clear message to Iran. “Our posture in the region is getting stronger every day, and they have to take that into account,” he said. “The Iranians tend to push until someone reacts, I think at some point they will want to react, but this is not a military decision”, he concludes, explaining that Centocom will develop different options but then it will be up to Biden to decide how the United States should respond.