Biden’s administration navigate deepening Iran dilemma

A drone attack in Jordan killed three American troops and injured at least 34 more, raising concerns about a wider Middle East conflict and the possibility of the US being further involved. President Joe Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the first US military casualties in months of such strikes in the region. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a term used to describe an umbrella organization, has claimed responsibility for the drone attack.

The group emerged as a collective term for pro-Tehran Iraqi militias, allowing them to launch attacks under a single banner. Over time, it became a front for Iran-backed militias operating beyond Iraq, including those in Syria and Lebanon. Today, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq operates as a cohesive force, aligning with Iran’s goal of preserving its influence across the region. The collective is known for its anti-US posture and dynamic military campaigns, such as a recent two-day drone operation targeting American forces at an Iraqi airbase.

Islamic Resistance militias, operating under the banner of Islamic Resistance, have been intensifying attacks on US forces in response to American support for Israel in the Israel-Hamas conflict and to assert regional influence. Since October 2023, Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly struck American military bases in Iraq and Syria, recently expanding their attacks to include northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border.

The deadly January 28, 2024, attack on Tower 22, a US military base in Jordan, marks a significant escalation and the first instance during the Israel-Hamas war that American troops have been killed. The attack in Jordan forms part of a strategy by Iranian-backed militias to counter Washington’s support for Israel in the Gaza conflict and aims to push US forces out of the Middle East entirely. By coordinating attacks under the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, these groups are attempting to display a unified stance against US interests and policy, showcasing their collective strength and strategic alignment across the region.

Iran has denied involvement in the drone strike, but the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is part of the networks of militia groups that Tehran supports. Iran provides these militias with money, weapons, and training through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Iran’s strategy in the region involves supporting and funding militia groups, granting them autonomy, and maintaining plausible deniability for attacks carried out by its proxies, but the extent of command and coordination remains unclear.

The US has complex dynamics when responding to attacks linked to Iranian-backed militias. While a forceful military strike is an option, targeting Iran directly on its own soil is fraught with risks and may be seen as a step too far. Even when targeting Iranian interests or personnel, the US has conducted these actions outside Iranian territory.

Iran’s denial of direct involvement in the attack complicates the situation and makes it less likely that the US attacks Iran in retaliatory strikes. US targeted approach to deter Iran raises questions about its effectiveness in deterring proxies and ongoing attacks, despite its precision.

The US’s response to Iran’s recent attack on its nuclear facilities could significantly alter its decision-making and operational capabilities. The key to this strategy is identifying the most influential factors, such as key leaders, critical infrastructure, or economic assets, which could be significantly impacted. The Biden administration must balance a strong response with the geopolitical consequences of the situation. The US response could reshape the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape and influence proxy warfare dynamics.

A strong military response could deter Iranian-backed militias from future attacks, but it could also provoke them into more aggressive actions. In the short term, US retaliation could escalate tensions and exacerbate the cycle of tit-for-tat strikes between the US and Iranian-backed forces. The attack’s pretext involves the Israel-Hamas war, which could indirectly affect the course of the conflict.

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