Pressure is growing on US President Joe Biden to directly attack Iran following a drone attack on an American outpost in Jordan. While hitting Iranian targets is an option, analysts suggest the US is more likely to strike Iranian-supported proxy groups based in Iraq and Syria. Biden has been reluctant to directly strike Iran, fearing it may plunge the Middle East into a wider conflict.
However, the deaths and casualties of US troops in the drone attack on the Tower 22 military outpost in Jordan may prompt a stronger-than-usual response. The attack was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, and Biden blamed these groups, but did not confirm Tehran’s involvement. US Congress, primarily Republicans, advocates for a direct attack on Iran, with Senators Graham and Cotton advocating for retaliation. Analysts suggest targeting the IRGC in Iranian territory would be seen as escalation.
The US may opt to target high-ranking leaders of the Iraqi militias, but this approach may not serve as an effective deterrent. Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, predicts that Washington will likely respond with strikes in those two countries rather than hitting Iran directly, but warns that it is becoming more difficult for the US government to avoid direct conflict with Tehran.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has warned that if further attacks on US forces and international shipping continue, it will become increasingly difficult for the Biden administration to resist the pressure to take thefight to Iran. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, director of the Center for Middle East and Global Order in Berlin, stated that Washington and Tehran have a similar level of antipathy towards starting a direct war.
The US would prefer to strike IRGC positions in the region rather than inside Iran. Iranian officials have distanced Tehran from the drone attack in Jordan without condemning it. Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib maintains that Iran-backed militias operate at their discretion against American aggressors.
The region has been in turmoil since the October conflict between Israel and Hamas, a terrorist organization designated by the US and EU. Israel launched an offensive in Gaza, killing thousands of people in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack on October 7. Iran’s “Axis of Resistance” has joined the fray in support of the Palestinians. Hizballah in Lebanon has been launching rockets at northern Israel, while Iran-backed militias have targeted American forces in Syria and Iraq over 150 times.
The US has responded to recent attacks in Iraq by killing the leader of an Iran-aligned militia leader earlier this month. Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels have been targeting commercial vessels with alleged ties to Israel or bound for Israeli ports, expanding their targets to include American and British-linked vessels in response to U.S. and U.K. air strikes on Huthi positions in Yemen. The drone attack on U.S. forces in Jordan and the Huthis’ continued targeting of commercial ships caused an oil price hike on January 29. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee has called for a cease-fire in Gaza to reduce tensions.