Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Iranian Proxys Continue Hitting American Targets

 

American air defenses failed to intercept an attack drone launched by Iranian-backed terrorists that killed three U.S. troops and wounded dozens of others at a military base in Jordan Sunday. Pentagon officials said that the low-flying drone got through due to some confusion created by an American drone that was returning to the base at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is trying to decide how to respond to the fatal attack as it comes under criticism for ignoring more than 165 such attacks on U.S. troops in the region by various Iranian proxy terrorist groups since October 17, which injured a total of more than 80 American troops.

President Biden has promised to “hold all those responsible to account,” but exactly how he plans to do that remains unclear.

The dead American soldiers were identified as Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, 46; Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24; and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23. They were members of an Army Reserve unit, the 718th Engineer Company, based at Fort Moore, Georgia. They were the first American troops to be killed by hostile fire since the war, started by Hamas against Israel on October 7, triggered a steep rise in attacks on American and other pro-American targets by Iranian-backed forces across the Middle East.

Another American military official said that the attack also left 47 American personnel wounded, including three who were transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a U.S. military facility that can offer troops more advanced care.

A total of 8 military personnel were evacuated from Jordan “for higher-level care, but they are in stable condition,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The other injuries caused by the attack were described as ranging from cuts and bruises to brain trauma.

The drone attacked a base in northeastern Jordan known as Tower 22, located close to where Jordan’s border converges with Syria and Iraq. Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters that the attack drone struck living quarters at the base while U.S. personnel were still in bed asleep. Tower 22 houses about 350 American personnel in aluminum boxes with linoleum floors that are a little bigger than a commercial shipping container and can be easily transported on trucks.

The base functions as a logistics and support site for a separate outpost used by U.S. troops and the Al Tanf Garrison just across the border in Syria.

 

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION RELUCTANT TO HOLD IRAN RESPONSIBLE

But while Pentagon spokeswoman Singh said that Iran bears responsibility for the deadly drone attack, she insisted that the U.S. doesn’t see Iran wanting to seek war with the U.S. and denied the strong appearance that the U.S. is already engaged in a regional war with Iran’s proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.

She then reiterated her message of U.S. weakness, “We don’t want a war with Iran. Again, these are Iran proxy groups launching these attacks on our service members, but we certainly don’t seek a wider conflict.”

President Biden’s first public comments on the deaths of the American soldiers came at the end of a campaign event in West Columbia, South Carolina, Sunday, when he said, “We had a tough day last night in the Middle East. We lost three brave souls in an attack on one of our bases. And I’d ask you for a moment of silence for all three of those fallen soldiers.”

Biden later said, “Today, America’s heart is heavy. Last night, three U.S. service members were killed, and many wounded, during an unmanned aerial drone attack on our forces stationed in northeast Jordan near the Syria border. While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.

“Jill and I join the families and friends of our fallen and Americans across the country in grieving the loss of these warriors in this despicable and wholly unjust attack.

“These service members embodied the very best of our nation: Unwavering in their bravery. Unflinching in their duty. Unbending in their commitment to our country — risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism. It is a fight we will not cease.

“The three American service members we lost were patriots in the highest sense, and their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten by our nation. Together, we will keep the sacred obligation we bear to their families. We will strive to be worthy of their honor and valor.

“We will carry on their commitment to fight terrorism. And have no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner [of] our choosing,” Biden concluded.

BIDEN CONSIDERS HIS MILITARY OPTIONS

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House that Biden met with his national security team Sunday and Monday to weigh the options before him, and that the United States will respond to the attacks on its own schedule.

The members of the national security team who met with Biden in the White House Situation Room included National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer, Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, NSC coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on his first day back after his extended recuperation from surgical treatment for prostate cancer.

“We do not seek another war. We do not seek to escalate,” Kirby told reporters. “But we will absolutely do what is required to protect ourselves, to continue that mission, and to respond appropriately to these attacks.”

“We know that Iran supports these groups. We know they resource them. We know they train them. We know that they’re certainly not discouraging these attacks,” Kirby said, “Clearly there is a responsibility that appropriately needs to be laid at the feet of leaders in Tehran.”

Kirby declined to answer any questions about the nature or timing of the likely U.S. retaliatory strike.

“I hope you can understand why I’m not going to telegraph any punches here from the podium, nor will I get in front of the president or his decision-making,” Kirby said. He said that the United States will respond “fully cognizant of the fact that these groups, backed by Tehran, have just taken the lives of American troops.”

Kirby also said that the attack in Jordan on Tower 22 is fundamentally different from the 165 others that have targeted U.S. forces in recent months “because we have three families who just got the worst possible news.”

In an interview with CNBC Monday, Kirby said the United States would react “in a time and a manner of our choosing.”

THE ATTACK BEARS THE EARMARKS OF IRAQ’S HEZBOLLAH

“We don’t want a wider war with Iran,” he said. “We don’t want a wider war in the region, but we’ve got to do what we have to do.” Kirby also said that the deadly drone attack in Jordan “clearly . . . has all the earmarks” of a group or groups supported by the Iranian-supported Kataib Hezbollah terrorists in Iraq, but was careful not to blame Iran or its proxies directly.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the day after the attack, said a U.S. response “could be multileveled, come in stages — and be sustained over time.”

Blinken added, “This is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East. I would argue that we have not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we’re facing now across the region since at least 1973 [when the Yom Kippur War took place], and arguably even before that.”

Defense Secretary Austin also met with Stoltenberg, and told reporters, “Let me start with my outrage and sorrow for the deaths of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded. The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops.”

On Monday U.S. officials reported an additional drone attack in Iraq and a rocket attack in Syria since the attack on Tower 22 in Jordan.

Meanwhile, the United States is also in the midst of sustained military strikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen in retaliation for dozens of their attacks on commercial and military ships in international waters off the Arabian Peninsula. The attacks have caused many commercial ships to avoid sailing in those waters to use the Suez Canal, and instead sail around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to reach European ports from Asian waters. The Houthis claim they launched those attacks in solidarity with Hamas which is fighting Israeli forces in Gaza, even though many of the ships they attacked have no connection whatsoever with Israel.

In addition to Sunday’s drone strike in Jordan and the Houthi attacks on shipping, White House officials are working to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out between Israel and Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, due to the almost daily Hezbollah missile attacks on targets along Israel’s northern border ever since the war in Gaza started.

ARE U.S. SOLDIERS IN THE REGION ADEQUATELY PROTECTED?

The attack in Jordan prompted concerns about whether U.S. military personnel stationed throughout the region are adequately prepared to defend themselves against the proliferation of sophisticated Iranian-made attack drones.

Pentagon officials have acknowledged that Iranian-backed proxy forces have launched wave attacks using multiple missiles and drones on other U.S. military positions throughout the region in recent months, in which U.S. defense systems destroyed only some of the incoming threats while missing others. That raised the likelihood that if such attacks continued, at some point, Americans would be killed.

The apparent confusion over the identity of the attack drone which hit Tower 22 was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Exactly why the base’s air defenses failed to stop the drone initially remained unclear. The system was operating at the time, and incoming U.S. drones are equipped with automated “friend-or-foe” identification systems that routinely distinguish them from attacking enemy aircraft.

U.S. investigators are exploring the possibility that the group responsible for the attack deliberately positioned the attack drone near a returning American drone to make it harder for the defense system to identify it and shoot it down.

Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that Iranian militia groups in Iraq have been known to fly drones in the same landing corridors as civilian airliners to approach bases where American troops are present in Erbil and Baghdad.

Another question reportedly being investigated is whether U.S. drones from the base were being flown in a predictable pattern — departing and returning at roughly the same time — enabling those who conducted the attack to mimic the flight patterns of the U.S. aircraft. A former U.S. official suggested “that would mean they would have had significant signals intelligence,” and possibly some help from a government in the region.

The targeting appears to have been deliberate and precise. While Jordanians provide security for the compound, the drone struck an exclusively American facility that housed a lounge and barracks used by military personnel.

While the U.S. military has long deployed sophisticated systems such as the Patriot missile and C-RAM (short for Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar) to defend American positions against enemy attack, the Pentagon has scrambled in recent years to develop new means for shielding its installations from rapidly evolving drone attacks, which have often involved swarms of small but lethal devices that can evade traditional air defense systems.

According to Tom Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the successful drone attack on Tower 22 exposes a need for redundant air defense capabilities at vulnerable outposts and a means to more thoroughly search for hard-to-identify threats.

“Masking of the [drone’s radar] signature is certainly a problem,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. officials suspected Monday that the drone was launched from Iraqi territory, although the precise location had not yet been pinpointed. The area has seen intense drone activity over the past two years, but there had never been a successful attack on Tower 22 before.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes Kataib Hezbollah, Nujaba, and other Iran-backed militants, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a senior official of the group who spoke to The Washington Post.

“As we said before, if the U.S. keeps supporting Israel, there will be escalations. All the U.S. interests in the region are legitimate targets and we don’t care about U.S. threats to respond, we know the direction we are taking and martyrdom is our prize,” the Islamic Resistance official said.

IRAQ PRESSURING THE U.S. TO PULL OUT ITS TROOPS

The likely involvement of Iraq-based terrorists injects added tension into the Biden administration’s already strained relationship with Iraq, whose leaders in recent weeks have called for the reduction or withdrawal of the American forces who returned to Iraq in 2014 to help battle the remaining Islamic State (ISIS) forces who are still a threat to the region.

U.S. officials also insist that the presence of a few hundred American troops in Jordan is totally unrelated to American support for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

America’s long-running confrontation with Iran and its affiliated terrorist groups in Iraq has increased the political pressure on the Baghdad government to seek the departure of all remaining foreign troops in the country.

Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, issued a statement urging an “end to the cycle of violence” on the day after the deadly drone attack on Tower 22. “Iraq expresses readiness to work on establishing fundamental rules to avoid further repercussions in the region and prevent the widening of the conflict,” the statement said. “The impact of these developments threatens regional and international peace and security, undermines efforts against terrorism and drugs, and jeopardizes trade, economy, and energy supplies.”

Iraq and the United States also held their first round of talks over the weekend on the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the prime minister’s office.

The U.S. has about 2,500 troops in Iraq while other nations in the coalition against ISIS have deployed about 900 troops in the country. The U.S. also has about 900 troops in Syria.

According to a research note by the Institute for the Study of War, Iran’s “Axis of Resistance is demonstrating its readiness to sustain and even further escalate its attack campaign, despite the United States and Iraqi federal government announcing that they will negotiate over the status of U.S. forces in Iraq.”

The deadly attack in Jordan marked a significant escalation by the Iranian-backed terrorists in the region who are responsible for the near-daily assaults on deployed U.S. forces since the war in Gaza began with an attack on Israel by Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists.

OTHER U.S. CASUALTIES IN THE REGION

The three soldiers killed at Tower 22 were the first American troops in the region to die in hostile action, but two Navy SEALs were recently lost at sea during an operation to seize a vessel carrying Iranian-made missile parts bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

While most of the previous attacks on U.S. troops based in Iraq and Syria were successfully intercepted, more than 80 Americans have suffered what the Pentagon described as mostly minor injuries as a result.

In addition, an American contractor died of a heart attack at an American facility in Iraq in October in an incident that turned out to be a false alarm, and earlier in 2023, another American contractor was killed when an attack drone evaded air defenses at an outpost in Syria.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have been calling for a harder-hitting U.S. military retaliation against Iran’s proxies which have been attacking U.S. forces in the region.

Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel triggered the Iranian-sponsored attacks on American targets across the region, the U.S. military has carried out dozens of narrowly targeted attacks in retaliation. These include one on January 4 in central Baghdad that killed a senior al-Nujaba commander, and the U.S. bombing of Houthi missile facilities in Yemen in response to their attacks on international shipping in the waterways leading to the Suez Canal.

U.S. DETERRENCE EFFORTS HAVE FAILED

U.S. officials said at the time that they hoped the retaliatory strikes would serve as a deterrent against further attacks on American troops. Instead, the attacks on U.S. personnel have grown more frequent and deadly, proving that Iran considers its proxies to be expendable in its war against America, which it calls the Great Satan, and against Israel, which it calls the Little Satan.

Some Republicans were calling Biden weak for not hitting back strongly at Iranian targets immediately following the attack on Tower 22 and cited the Trump administration’s assassination of Iran’s famous Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani in 2020, as an example of a successful deterrent strike.

BIDEN’S POLICY OF APPEASEMENT TOWARD IRAN

Republicans have long accused Biden of following a policy of appeasement with Iran by refusing to enforce the trade sanctions on Iranian oil exports that President Trump had imposed and by the Buden administration’s failed efforts to get Iran to abide by the terms of President Obama’s deeply flawed 2015 nuclear deal.

The Republican National Committee also noted the irony of Biden’s empty boast, just 16 days before the drone attack on Tower 22, claiming that, “I’ve already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything.”

Former president Donald Trump blamed President Joe Biden for the deadly attack against U.S. troops in Jordan. While offering his condolences to the families of the three service members who were killed, Trump said, “This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrific and tragic consequence of Joe Biden’s weakness and surrender.”

“Three years ago, Iran was weak, broke, and totally under control. Thanks to my Maximum Pressure policy, the Iranian regime could barely scrape two dollars together to fund their terrorist proxies. Then Joe Biden came in and gave Iran billions of dollars, which the regime has used to spread bloodshed and carnage throughout the Middle East.”

TRUMP SAYS THAT HE WOULD HAVE PREVENTED THE ATTACK

Trump then declared that “this attack would never have happened if I was President, not even a chance. Just like the Iranian-backed Hamas attack on Israel would never have happened, the War in Ukraine would never have happened, and we would right now have peace throughout the world, Instead, we are on the brink of World War 3.”

Republican Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said any U.S. response should target Iran directly rather than going after the groups it supports.

“I can tell you Iran doesn’t care if their proxy forces get a black eye and bloody nose — they care if Iran gets a black eye and bloody nose,” said Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general who served in Iraq.

He added: “The comments from Kirby and other [administration spokespeople] saying they don’t want to escalate is total baloney. These guys always worry about escalating. It has already escalated.”

But Bacon stopped short of calling for Biden to order airstrikes on targets deep inside Iran at this point but floated the idea of striking Iran’s peripheral oil export infrastructure or its navy. “There’s a way to get their attention without putting undue risk to our forces,” he said.

Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “The Biden administration’s failed Middle East policy has destroyed our deterrence against adversaries in the Middle East. We need a major reset of our Middle East policy to protect our national security interests and restore deterrence.”

McCaul also suggested that the United States strike Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) targets, rather than targeting Iran’s expendable proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was more direct in telling Biden to, “Hit Iran now. Hit them hard.”

AMERICAN TROOPS WERE “SITTING DUCKS”

Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton said Biden had left U.S. forces as “sitting ducks, and now three are dead and dozens wounded, sadly as I’ve predicted would happen for months. The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East. Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander-in-chief.”

But Democrat Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, urged caution and criticized Republicans for immediately demanding an all-out military response.

“To the chicken hawks calling for war with Iran, you’re playing into the enemy’s hands — and I’d like to see you send your sons and daughters to fight,” Moulton said in a statement. “We must have an effective, strategic response on our terms and our timeline. Deterrence is hard; war is worse.”

Similarly, the White House responded to the Republican calls by warning that too powerful a retaliation could drag the U.S. into a widening conflict in the Middle East against Iran and its allies that Biden has gone to great lengths to avoid.

BIDEN TRYING TO HEAD OFF AN ISRAELI WAR WITH HEZBOLLAH

For months, Biden and his top aides have been focused on trying to prevent the Israel-Gaza war from spiraling into a broader regional war that could force the United States to become more directly involved. In the days immediately after the October 7 attack, the administration dissuaded Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon in response to intelligence Israeli officials had received indicating that an all-out attack by Hezbollah was imminent.

Since that time, Israel has been exchanging occasionally intense rocket and artillery fire and air strikes with Hezbollah, forcing the evacuation of civilians from Israeli towns along the northern border with Lebanon. Top Israeli officials have made it clear they view that situation as unacceptable and have declared that Israel will do whatever it has to, including launching a major attack on Hezbollah, to enable the residents of northern Israel to return safely to their homes.

“We prefer the path of an agreed-upon diplomatic settlement,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in January. “But we are getting close to the point where the hourglass will turn over.”

That prompted the Biden White House to dispatch more of its officials to the Middle East to again try to prevent a full-blown war from erupting between Israel and Hezbollah.

BIDEN PRESSURING ISRAEL TO MAKE ANOTHER HOSTAGE DEAL WITH HAMAS

Because of its heightened concerns about an escalation of the fighting into a regional war after the spike in Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping forced the U.S. and Britain to respond with a bombing campaign against Houthi missile sites, the Biden administration stepped up its diplomatic pressure to get Israel and Hamas back to the negotiating table, to reach an agreement on an extended pause in the fighting in Gaza that would permit another phased release of the remaining Israeli hostages that Hamas is holding.

Biden administration officials have said they are hopeful that such a pause could evolve into a permanent cease-fire that would cool the other hostilities in the region, including the Israeli exchange of missile and artillery fire with Hezbollah in the north, and the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, but there is not yet any firm sign that such an agreement, even for another temporary pause in the fighting in Gaza, is within sight.

Despite the Biden administration’s best diplomatic efforts and restraint in fighting back, in recent weeks, the escalation of attacks by Iranian-backed forces on Israel and U.S. troops across the region has become a reality, raising the likelihood of a wider and more intense war significantly, security experts said.

“It’s a really tough balance to strike because if they [the U.S. military] don’t hit back or don’t hit hard enough, you could just see a continuation of what has been,” said Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute. “There have been so many attacks [on U.S. troops] I’m surprised more deaths have not occurred.”

CONGRESS QUESTIONING BIDEN’S WAR AUTHORITY

A few members of Congress are now expressing misgivings over Biden’s handling of the attacks on American interests by Iranian proxies in the region. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to the president last week arguing that he must seek authorization from Congress before launching any additional strikes against the Houthis in Yemen. That letter followed another from four senators, two from each party, asking for the legal and strategic rationale behind the American military strikes so far and urging Biden to seek congressional authorization before ordering any more.

At a White House press conference on Monday, spokesman Kirby, a former U.S. Navy admiral, was asked whether Biden had the necessary authority to respond to the deadly drone attack on American troops in Jordan without explicit approval from Congress. He adamantly defended the president’s ability to respond unilaterally under such circumstances, citing Article II of the Constitution which gives the president the authority to protect U.S. troops.

There is also some fear that an escalation in the low-level conflict between the U.S. and Iranian-backed forces in the region could impede the fragile negotiations that have just resumed to secure the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in the fighting in Gaza and the release of some of the Palestinian terrorists now being held in Israeli prisons.

“Every action can provoke a counterreaction that can be quite unexpected in different theaters,” Katulis said. “That’s because Iran and its networks have used the plight of Palestinians in their own propaganda.”

WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT ON THE NOVEMBER ELECTION?

Biden’s advisers are also well aware that the president’s actions in the Middle East can have ramifications in the campaign leading up to the November presidential election. Biden’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas in the wake of the October 7 attack is weakening his support among American Muslims and younger voters who have been influenced by the antisemitism that pervades most American college campuses and who support the Palestinians. In addition, former president Donald Trump, Biden’s likely Republican opponent, has publicly blamed Biden’s “weakness” for the deadly drone attack on the American troops in Jordan.

The last time Biden was confronted with the death of American troops in the Middle East was in August 2021, when Taliban suicide bombers killed 13 service members during the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. That debacle prompted a sharp downturn in Biden’s job approval ratings by American voters from which he has never recovered.

HOW WILL BIDEN STRIKE BACK?

The latest U.S. military fatalities in Jordan have further increased the pressure on Biden, making it militarily and politically impossible for him to further hesitate in striking back hard at the Iranian proxies now attacking American forces across the region. His only choice at this point is to decide how and where that retaliation will take place.

“While we do not want a wider conflict with Iran, Iran seems to want a wider conflict with us,” said Jeremy Bash, a former top official at the CIA and Pentagon in the Obama administration. “We don’t need to play into their hands. But we also won’t let them kill Americans with impunity, so there will be consequences for Iran.”

Andrew Tabler, who served as a National Security Council official on Syria policy during the Trump administration and is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that “Tower 22 would probably be less defended than any other U.S. position in Syria because it is across the border in Jordan,” Tabler also said, “The attack is a major escalation and is likely designed to drive U.S. forces out of Syria.”

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at London’s Chatham House think tank, agreed that the killing of three U.S. soldiers adds “further anxiety that a regional war is actually here.”

She said the chances of containing the violence hinges on “who, what, when and how the Biden administration responds,” and added that she was expecting the retaliation to consist of “surgical” U.S. strikes against Iranian military assets outside of Iran.

Vakil also said that acting through its proxies gives Iran a certain amount of plausible deniability.

“Iran certainly is trying to take advantage of the war in Gaza to showcase its transnational Axis of Resistance,” Vakil said, but “at the same time Iran itself doesn’t want to bear the cost of sponsoring the axis.” Iran’s leaders are banking on the fact that the Biden administration doesn’t want to see the war spread, she said, but it is a “very dangerous gamble.”

IRAN DENYING RESPONSIBILITY

Iran has publicly denied any responsibility for the repeated attacks by proxies under its orders on U.S. troops across the region.

“The resistance groups in the region do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran in their decisions and actions,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani. He described such accusations against Iran as “baseless.”

He then accused the United States of “exacerbating insecurity” by maintaining a military presence in Iraq and Syria, even though it is only there to fight ISIS, and launching strikes in retaliation for the attacks on shipping by the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran has also accused Israel of carrying out a January 20 strike on the Syrian capital of Damascus, which it said killed five Iranian military advisers. Israel has not confirmed or denied the attack, but Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has previously said that Israel is “acting against Iran all the time, everywhere.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also said in January, as the attacks by Iranian proxies were increasing, that “if Iran is doing all this now when it does not [yet] possess nuclear weapons, imagine how essential it is to prevent it from having nuclear weapons.”

Syrian state media later reported that Israel launched an air attack from the direction of the Golan Heights, “targeting a number of points south of Damascus.” There were conflicting reports about what was hit and who was killed.

The Syrian state news outlet Sana first reported that “Iranian advisers” and civilians were killed, but later changed the story to remove the reference to the advisers. Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, also denied that an Iranian installation was targeted and claimed that no Iranian citizens or advisers were killed.

 

 

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