US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a Thursday press briefing claimed that “Our soldiers were killed by Iranian agents,” in reference to the weekend drone attack on a Jordanian base which killed three American troops. It is now being widely reported that the Pentagon will launch multiple days of airstrikes on ‘Iranian targets’ and assets in Syria and Iraq.
Biden admin officials in the last two days have been leaking to the press information about the scope of operations. But Iran hawks aren’t happy, saying this level of telegraphing has given Iranian and IRGC officers ample time and opportunity to vacate their bases.
Even as of Monday there were widespread reports that Iran-linked groups were temporarily abandoning their bases in the region, fearing immediate major attacks.
One think tank Iran hawk, Jason Brodsky, complained on Thursday as US strikes are imminent, “The U.S. government is really helping IRGC terrorists get out of Dodge—the long lead time coupled with visibility into the U.S. response. It raises all kinds of questions and none of them are good.”
And Republican Congressman from Florida Mike Walz said the extent of foreknowledge and wait time makes the whole operation “deliberately unserious”.
This is deliberately unserious. https://t.co/bvEEqYydW0
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) February 1, 2024
Another commentator pointed out that the Biden admin has been “vocal about targeting the IRGC in Iraq & Syria, yet reports say the IRGC has moved its top officers back to Iran… This move raises questions: Is the admin soft on the IRGC or looking to protect them?”
According to Reuters:
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and will rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, five sources familiar with the matter said.
The Guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since arriving a decade ago to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war. Since December, Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of their members, among them one of the Guards’ top intelligence generals.
Earlier in the day Defense Secretary Austin was asked whether the US has telegraphed its response too much to the point of essentially allowing leaders to return to Iran. He essentially dodged the question, saying, “We will have a multi-tiered response.”
We should point that to some degree the basic Western assumptions that there are “Iran-backed” groups running around all over Syria, and that they take orders directly from Tehran is an exaggeration and misleading. While certainly any group fighting on behalf of the pro-Damascus/Baghdad/Tehran axis is ‘Iran-linked’, there’s still multiple and varied interests driving them. For example, militias close to the Syrian government are seeking to push out the years-long US troop occupation of the country’s vital oil and gas resources. Syrian nationalism is something very different from Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideology.
The New York Times too has conceded that despite it being well-known that Tehran arms and funds the main Shia militias in Iraq, there remains no evidence that Tehran is “calling the shots” when it comes to events like attacks on US personnel out of Syria or Iraq.
As for the major counter-Iran strikes, it seems Biden wants to show he’s “doing something” ahead of the election, but an operation which poses less risk for rapid direct escalation with the Islamic Republic. He’s going for the “easy” lay up of attacking Syria again, which has already been done several times over the years.