White House officials were cited in a New York Times piece describing that it’s “only a matter of time” before American troops are killed in Iraq or Syria as Iran-linked militant groups continue launching rockets and drones on US bases and positions. The report begins with this: “Another day, another barrage of rockets and another spark that American officials fear could set off a wildfire of violence across the Middle East”—and then transitions to the following astounding and frank admission:
The latest attack on American troops in the region over the weekend resulted in no deaths, but President Biden and his advisers worry that it is only a matter of time. Whenever a report of a strike arrives at the White House Situation Room, officials wonder whether this will be the one that forces a more decisive retaliation and results in a broader regional war.
The report goes on the suggest that Iran could be hit hard in a direct US response in the scenario of American troops being killed. This would of course raise the likelihood of broader regional war, and an expanse of US intervention in the Middle East.
Speaking of the internal Biden administration debate, the Times report says, “They (admin officials) do not want to let such attacks go without a response, but on the other hand do not want to go so far that the conflict would escalate into a full-fledged war, particularly by striking Iran directly.” However, “They privately say they may have no choice, however, if American troops are killed.”
And then this surprise emphasis: “That is a red line that has not been crossed, but if the Iranian-backed militias ever have a day of better aim or better luck, it easily could be.”
As of last weekend, international reports tallied that already at least 140 attacks have been launched on US troops in Iraq and Syria since the start of Israel’s Gaza offensive. Further this has included “nearly 70 U.S. personnel wounded, some of them suffering traumatic brain injuries”—but the majority of cases are considered minor.
On the question of whether the White House might give the order to attack Iran directly, this is anything but clear give it would be unprecedented. So far both sides have been fighting via proxy, for example in the context of the Syria war.
The US might instead choose to continue conducting airstrikes or major missile attacks on either locations in Iraq or Syria, targeting ‘pro-Iranian groups’, such as the Iraqi popular mobilization units.
Regardless, as the developing crisis in the Red Sea demonstrates, at this point a mere tit-for-tat slow escalation scenario is unlikely to deter the ongoing attacks on US positions in Syria and Iraq. However, a tiny minority of Congressmen have pointed out that the problem won’t exist at all in Iraq and Syria if Washington brings the troops home.