Military Escalation Against Iran Is Foolish and Unjustified

Military Escalation Against Iran Is Foolish and Unjustified

Attacking Iran would be not only dangerous, but also unsupported by any U.S. intelligence assessments to date.

Credit: KPG-Ivary

The greatest danger for a widening war in the Middle East is unintended actions that take a path to Iran. That danger became more real on January 28 when a one-way attack drone launched by groups President Joe Biden immediately identified as “radical Iran-backed militant groups” smashed into Tower 22, a housing unit on a U.S. military facility in Jordan near the Syrian border. Three U.S. servicemembers were killed, and more than forty were injured. 

The inflammatory nature of the attack lies in two things: After at least 165 attacks by Iran-backed militias on U.S. forces in the region since October 17, it is the first to kill U.S. troops; and the Biden administration has warned that if an Iran-backed militia attack kills U.S. troops, the U.S. could respond with strikes inside Iran.

“Hit Iran now. Hit them hard,” South Carolina’s Senator Lindsay Graham demanded. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said that Biden would be “a coward unworthy of being commander-in-chief” if he didn’t. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the imposition of “crippling costs…not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors.”

Yet expanding the war in the region to a wider war with Iran serves nobody’s interests. The utility of the residual 900 U.S. troops in Syria and 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq has outlasted its best before date. Now that the Islamic State is no longer the danger it was, that objective is outweighed by the provocativeness of the troops’ presence and the easy target they present. 

Expanding the war to Iran would be hard to contain. Iran has developed much stronger ties to China and Russia. Even if war with Iran didn’t risk drawing the U.S. into the war with Russia and China that has so far been avoided in Ukraine, it does risk breaking the dams in the region and drawing in countries from Lebanon and Yemen to Iraq, Syria, and beyond. 

What’s worse is that the fatal strike on the U.S. base has not even altered the assessment of U.S. intelligence that Iran does not intend to start a wider war with the attack in Jordan. 

The New York Times reported the day after the attack that Iran “may not have known in advance about the attack in Jordan” because “while Iran provides weapons, funding and sometimes intelligence to its proxy groups, there is no evidence that it calls the shots.”

On the day following the attack, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at a press conference that “In terms of attribution for the attack, we know this is an IRGC-backed militia.” 

It does not follow, however, that because the group that carried out the attack is one that is supported by Iran that it is Iran that ordered the attack. Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has recently said that the U.S. and its partners misunderstand the relationship between Iran and the militias, insisting that the “Axis of Resistance is joined by masters who take their decisions independently, not servants who obey regulations blindly.”

Singh said “we know that Iran is behind it,” but when pressed by a journalist whether that meant that she  “know[s] that Iran and/or Iranian leaders were actually behind this attack, as in planned, coordinated, or directed it,” she could only reply,

We know that Iran certainly plays a role with these groups, they arm and equip and fund these groups. I don’t have more to share on—terms of an intelligence assessment on if leaders in Iran were directing this attack, but what I can tell you is that we know these groups are supported by Iran and therefore they do have their fingerprints on this, but I can’t tell you more in terms of who directed the attack.

When asked to clarify whether Iranian responsibility went beyond general support for these groups and took the form of specifically supporting this attack, Singh could say only “Beyond that, we’re—we’re doing an—intelligence assessments. We don’t have—don’t—I can’t give you today that.”

When Biden revealed on January 30 that he had decided what form the promised U.S. retaliation would take, his choice of words hinted that the U.S. was acting on an assessment that had not yet gone beyond the one presented in the Pentagon press conference: namely, they have confidence Iran generally supported the attackers but not yet that Iran specifically directed or supported the attackers. “I do hold them responsible,” Biden said, “in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it.” 

Biden further hinted that the retaliation he had selected might be calibrated to that assessment and that, although it would surely be a significant strike on Iran-backed groups in the region or on Iranian interests, it might not strike at targets inside Iran: “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”

As for the most recent attack being escalatory, Singh said that “there was nothing different or new about this attack” except that, unlike earlier attacks, “this attack was successful.” Most importantly, she said that “we don’t see Iran wanting to seek a war with the United States.”

For its part, Iran’s representative to the U.N. said that “Iran had no connection and had nothing to do with the attack on the US base.” 

Kataib Hezbollah, the group whom the Pentagon says “has its footprints” on the attack, claims not only that Iran does “not know the specifics of our jihadist work,” but that Iran has “repeatedly declared opposition to our escalation against the U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.” Although Kataib Hezbollah’s word is suspect—would the group say anything different if they were an Iranian sock-puppet?—it is not without precedent. In 2014, when the Houthis were advancing on the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, Iran specifically urged them not to capture the city. The Houthi rebuffed the Iranian urging and captured the capital.

Although Iran says that they are not afraid of war and that they would “decisively respond” to a U.S. retaliation “on the country, its interests and nationals,” General Hossein Salami, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said on January 31 that Iran is “not looking for war.”

In addition to Iran not wanting to start a war with the U.S. and the intelligence assessment that Iran does not intend to start a wider war with this attack, Iran has also said that if Israel “does not…attack Iran, its interests, and nationals” then “Iran’s armed forces will not engage” in the current war with Gaza. 

“The resistance front,” Iran maintains, “can defend itself.” That front has said that its fatal attack in Jordan was a “continuation of our approach to resisting the American occupation forces in Iraq and the region.”

Similar points have been made about other Iran-backed militias. Stacey Philbrick Yadav, the chair of international relations at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a specialist on Yemen, told Time in December 2023 that the Houthis “do have a relationship with and support from Iran, but are not a straightforward proxy of Iranian interests. They have their own locally defined interests.”

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, commented to The American Conservative that “If Iran didn’t like what they’re doing, they could probably stop it.” But, he added, it is also probable that the Houthi “initiated the attacks themselves.”

With calls from Congress members to retaliate with strikes in Iran and risk a wider war in the region, it is important to hear what U.S. intelligence and the Pentagon are saying. Iran may not have been behind the attack and may not even have known about it in advance. There is not yet any assessment that Iran directed the attack. Although Iran generally supports the militias in Iraq and Syria, there is not yet any evidence that they supported this specific attack. Most importantly, the Intelligence community and the Pentagon do not believe Iran wants war with the U.S.

Hopefully, the U.S. does not want war with Iran. The Pentagon says they don’t: “We don’t seek a wider conflict with Iran…. We don’t want a war with Iran.”

The post Military Escalation Against Iran Is Foolish and Unjustified appeared first on The American Conservative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *