President Joe Biden has made clear that the United States will fight back after a deadly drone strike killed three members of the military and wounded more than 40 at a small Jordanian base over the weekend. What is still not clear is who will receive the blow, where and with what force.
Biden has a wide range of optionsbut the US must walk a very fine line: A weak response will do little to deter further attacks by Iranian-backed militia groups, while a major attack risks spreading turmoil in the Middle East and dragging the US into a broader conflict.
On Tuesday, Biden bluntly said “yes” when asked if he had decided how to respond to the attack. But did not provide details and added that the U.S. wants to avoid triggering a broader war in the Middle East. “That's not what I'm looking for,” she noted.
However, the three soldiers are the first killed in militia attacks since the beginning of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. And his death has prompted calls for a strong American response.
Tower 22, the base attacked in Jordan. Photo: Reuters
Target options range from inside Iran, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, to Iranian ships at sea and militia groups backed by Tehran and key militant leaders in Iraq and Syria. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby raised the possibility of the US adopting a “phased approach” with several actions over a period of time.
Below are some options.
Direct attack on Iran
Officials across the government have said the U.S. believes Iran is responsible to arm, finance and support militias that have been waging a growing campaign of drone, missile and rocket attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and now Jordan.
“In a sense I hold them responsible because they are supplying the weapons to the people who did it,” Biden said Tuesday.
Attacking inside Iran – including the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force – would send a strong and direct message to Tehran.
Some argue that such a move is necessary because U.S. attacks on Iranian-backed militias in recent months they have not been dissuaded. But it would also be the measure riskierdue to fears that it would inflame militias and anger Tehran.
The three dead soldiers at the base. Photo. archive
Attacking Iranian assets or leaders out of the country may be more acceptable. The US did that in 2020, when it killed Quds Force leader General Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike in Iraq, in response to attacks on US bases in that country and an assault on the US embassy. USA in Baghdad.
Iran responded by launching a barrage of ballistic missiles at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, wounding dozens of American troops, most of whom suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Former Israeli intelligence official and Middle East analyst Avi Melamed said that Iran has billions of dollars in military investment projects in Syria and that, by attacking them, the US could punish Tehran without the risk of escalation from a direct attack on Iran. One example, he said, is a large complex near Boukamal that is used for ballistic missile storage. The US has already attacked facilities there in response to militia attacks.
“There is no shortage of military targets (in Syria) that the US administration could target and cause significant damage to the Iranian regime,” Melamed said.
Attack militia groups again
The most likely measure would be attack Iranian-backed militias again in Iraq and Syria. Until Tuesday, these groups had launched 166 attacks against US military facilities since October 18, including 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and now one in Jordan, according to a US military official.
On Tuesday, one of the main Iranian-backed militia groups, Kataib Hezbollah, announced in a statement “the suspension of military and security operations against occupation forces” in Iraq, referring to US troops. The group, which U.S. officials consider one of the main suspects in the Jordan attack, said the suspension was intended to “avoid an embarrassing situation for the Iraqi government.”
In response, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said that “actions speak louder than words.”
The attacks on US forces have put the Iraqi government in an awkward position. The first Minister Mohammed Shea al-Sudani He came to power thanks to factions allied with Iran, but has also worked to maintain a good relationship with the US.
The US has counterattacked the militias only a handful of times since October 27.
That day, US warplanes attacked two weapons and ammunition storage sites in eastern Syria, near Boukamal, that were used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and backed groups. by Iran.On November 8, fighter jets dropped bombs on an IRGC weapons storage depot near Maysulun in Deir el-Zour. On November 12, US airstrikes targeted a training center and safe house in the Bulbul neighborhood of Mayadin. On December 26, the US launched strikes on three locations in Iraq used by Kataib Hezbollah and associated groups, and, on January 23, the US attacked three facilities in Iraq, again targeting Kataib Hezbollah.
Throughout the Capitol, Lawmakers demand retaliation.
Hawkish members of Congress said Biden should take direct aim at Tehran over the deadly attack on the Jordan base. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said attacking Iranian delegates has not deterred them and called on the Biden administration to “strike targets of importance inside Iran, not only as retaliation for killing our forces, but also as a deterrent to future attacks.”
Others said the US should attack the IRGC and the Quds Force, which are spread throughout the region.
The majority, however, leaned towards moderationsaying the administration should take an approach strategic and thoughtful to avoid an escalation of tensions and dragging the US into another war in an election year.
“Direct confrontation with Iran will undoubtedly lead to the deaths of more members of the U.S. military and could easily escalate into a regional conflict,” Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs of California said in a statement.
How important and how soon?
The White House's description of a “phased approach” could imply that the response will be more than military. And it could also reflect concerns that members of militia groups are reportedly hiding, which could make it more difficult for the US to locate and attack high-ranking commanders or key locations. Consequently, the US may need to stagger its response over days to better locate and pinpoint targets.
Others argue that anything short of a major response will make the US look weak.
“When you hear proportionality, reasonable, moderate, 'we don't want a regional war,' that sounds very good in Davos, but our adversaries They interpret it as weakness and green light for aggression,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
A non-military option They are always economic sanctionsa punishment commonly used by the Biden administration and its predecessors.
Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration “must adopt a policy toward Iran focused on imposing significant economic and military costs on the regime.”
The US could reinforce sanctions aimed at to cut off the flow of funds to Iran and its proxies, particularly in Iraq. The administration has already imposed sanctions on some of the Iraqi militias – particularly Kataib Hezbollah – as well as on companies that would be funneling dollars to the militias or Iran.
Translation: Elisa Carnelli