Measured and Proportionate

26 February 2021


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

US Strikes Pro-Iranian Militia in Syria


The Biden administration undertook its first military strike yesterday, hitting a base in eastern Syria used by various pro-Iranian militias. They use the base to attack targets in Iraq. Earlier this month, these militias fired rockets into Irbil, Iraq, killing a contractor working for the US government and injuring others. The strike yesterday was a single bomb that hit a cluster of buildings and killed a few militia members. The Biden administration is setting boundaries for Iran as it tries to distance itself from Iran's rival Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times states, "A Kataib Hezbollah official said that one of his group’s fighters had been killed in the airstrikes. But Iranian state television and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain, reported that 17 fighters had been killed in the airstrikes, which occurred near Abu Kamal, Syria, just across the border from Iraq."

The Biden administration would like to get Iran to the negotiating table to restore, and perhaps make minor amendments, to the Iran nuke deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]. At the same time, it cannot have Iran's proxies lobbing ordinance at pro-US forces in Iraq.

"The strike, the way I see it, was meant to set the tone with Tehran and dent its inflated confidence ahead of negotiations," said Bilal Saab, a former Pentagon official who is currently a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute. "You don't want to enter into potential talks with Iran on any issue with a bruise to your face from the Irbil attacks."

The militias are one of Iran's great successes, creating a capacity to cause trouble throughout the region while maintaining a certain deniability. They can operate from Mediterranean coast in Lebanon across the Fertile Crescent and into the territory of Iran's eastern neighbors. The cost to Iran is not particularly burdensome. Dismantling them would be expensive, and it would take years.

Destroying the militias is not on the Biden agenda. They are part of Iran's arsenal, but it would be vastly easier to eliminate Tehran's desire to use them than it would be to eliminate them. Dropping a bomb to discourage the militiamen themselves is largely symbolic.

The US and Iran have not gotten along in a generation. That relationship is not going to change any time soon. However, the Trump administration foolishly sided with the Sunni states in the Gulf in their struggle against Iran. The Biden team is trying to extricate the US from the Sunni bloc, as suggested in yesterday's posting regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Yet this distancing cannot look like the US is withdrawing from the region or the tensions will rise.

So, the strike against the militiamen was a small one. The US has responded to the attack on Irbil, and honor has been satisfied. The main action of returning all parties to compliance with the JCPOA can begin. Iran wants sanctions lifted, the US wants inspectors in Iran's nuclear sites, and the Europeans would like both. The JCPOA is far from perfect, but it is far superior to no deal at all.

Iran is going to continue to be difficult for as long as its government is based on a Shi'ite interpretation of the Koran. Such an ideology leaves little room for Sunni beliefs, let alone the secularism of the West. The clash of worldviews will persist for decades, until Iran's Islamic Revolution collapses. While that clash is inevitable, it need not be violent. It is up to Iran at this point to decide if the Biden administration is worth negotiating with. The strike will remind Iran that talking is preferable.

© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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