On Nov. 21, the Department of Defense confirmed a fourth round of retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed proxy militias, which had attacked the U.S. 66 times during the preceding month, injuring 62 U.S military personnel. Considering the pattern of the conflict and the previous three attacks, this will not deter Tehran.
The first round of strikes happened on Oct. 26, after Iran-backed attacks caused 21 injuries, and one contractor died from a heart attack during a false alarm for an air attack in Iraq. The Pentagon reported on Nov. 6 that proxies of Iran had carried out 38 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct.17. 45 American service members were injured in total. The administration struck at Iran’s proxies on Nov. 8, but this retaliation clearly failed to deter Iran.
Five days later, the Pentagon confirmed that the number had risen to 46, with 11 more injured. Out of the total 56 service members injured, two dozen have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Yet despite the initial failure to deter Iran by attacking its proxies, the administration struck at Iran’s proxy forces again on Nov. 13, which also failed to achieve its deterrent objective.
Yet the attacks and injuries continued, prompting the most recent, fourth round of similar strikes. As might be expected, Iran’s proxy attacks go on daily, nonetheless.
Enforcing deterrence is possible only if the Biden administration targets the Islamic Republic’s strategic assets. If not, Iran’s strategy to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel could succeed.
Deterrence requires resolve and capabilities. Iran has feared Israel’s resolve and capabilities (though the Oct. 7 attack might suggest a shift), but America does not instill fear, despite its capabilities. So, when Israel conducts military operations against Iran in Syria and Iraq and covert ones against its nuclear facilities, Iran in turn targets American forces in the Middle East in its double proxy war with Israel. To deter Israel, Iran has used its proxies to pressure the United States, expecting that the U.S. government would in turn exert pressure on Israel to de-escalate. Put simply, America has become the proxy for Iran to retaliate against Israel.
According to the New York Times, the administration reached an understanding with Iran over the summer that, in exchange for the release of frozen Iranian assets, Iran would stop its proxy attacks. Iran abided by this agreement until the release of the frozen assets in Qatari custody and the beginning of the Gaza war. Since then, it has escalated its attacks.
In addition to the four rounds of airstrikes, the Biden administration has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region. None of these actions has deterred Iran’s proxies; rather, the number of attacks has grown. Iran will continue to escalate, leaving the U.S. government with three options: concede to the demands of the Islamic Republic to stop the attacks; make no adjustments and continue to endure the assaults; or escalate retaliatory response to make Iran stop. Could Iran succeed in pushing the Biden administration to ask Israel to cease operations in Gaza to end increasing attacks against U.S. military personnel?
Read the rest at The Hill.
Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.
Shay Khatiri is a Senior Fellow and the VP of development for Yorktown Institute.