For those closely monitoring the recent developments in Iranian-American relations, it’s clear that Iran is treading carefully, testing the boundaries of the strategic patience exercised by the Biden administration. This includes permitting its terrorist militias to continuously target American forces in Iraq and challenging American influence in the Middle East by pushing its militias to confront Israel on multiple fronts, writes Salem AlKetbi, UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.
A recent report by the Washington Post highlighted the frustration among some Pentagon officials regarding the escalating attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria. These officials feel that the Pentagon’s strategy against Iran’s proxies is inconsistent. Some argue that the limited retaliatory airstrikes approved by President Joe Biden have failed to quell the violence and deter Iran-affiliated militias.
The Biden administration’s strategy appears unclear, especially to those implementing it in the US military. The approach blurs the lines between defense and offense, aiming for deterrence while sticking to the tactic of a second strike as part of “self-defense.” However, it’s evident that the Iranian side doesn’t fully grasp the nuances of this strategy, interpreting it as a sign of American hesitation or, more accurately, concern about a broader conflict with Iran and its terrorist proxies.
True deterrence isn’t achieved solely through a show of force; it requires a serious intent to activate these forces in defense of the concerned party’s interests. The response to any threat should be stronger than the aggression itself, directly impacting the aggressor’s interests and conveying a clear message of potential consequences. Deterrence relies on the seriousness of the message and confidence in its delivery.
While the US and American strategic planners understand these principles, constraints arise due to President Biden’s policy, aiming to deter Iran without direct engagement in open confrontations. This is challenging because Tehran is well aware that the White House lacks the will to confront it and prefers to keep tensions within calculated limits. Additionally, the Biden administration has lost the initiative in dealing with the Iranian issue, with US foreign policy towards Iran becoming hostage to the nuclear file. We’re witnessing a mutual deterrence theory, but the outcome appears to favor Iran.
An analysis of indicators suggests that the US has limited options in dealing with the Iranian strategic challenge to American influence in the Middle East. The US has become a victim of the erosion of the reputation and standing of the American military, which maintains around 2500 soldiers in Iraq and about 900 in Syria. These bases have been continuously targeted by Iranian terrorist attacks. Notably, over 60 American soldiers in Iraq and Syria have been injured in about 66 attacks on US bases since mid-October last year. This is a high rate compared to the period before that, with the Pentagon reporting around 80 similar incidents between January 2021 and March 2023, spanning about two years.
Iran also acts boldly, knowing that the timing isn’t entirely opportune if the Biden administration decides to act firmly against Tehran. This isn’t just to prevent the escalation of conflicts between Israel and terrorist groups, including Hamas, and to avoid igniting the situation in the entire Middle East. It’s also because the White House faces noticeable internal discontent with its policies towards Gaza and Iran. President Biden’s popularity has sharply declined to 40% due to Gaza, the lowest level since he took office in 2021.
The confirmed truth, considering all the evidence, is that Iran’s attacks against Israel aren’t in defense of the Palestinian people. In reality, these attacks serve strategic goals related to Iran’s regional and international influence, with no connection to the Palestinian cause. Anyone denying this should carefully review Iran’s policies and statements by its leaders. Iran uses terrorism, such as the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shiite militias in Iraq, as tools in the strategic conflict to ensure its strategic interests.
What’s happening between Iran and the US isn’t a mutual deterrence process within the recognized operational framework for such circumstances. Instead, it’s a calculated military pressure exerted by Iranian terrorist proxies to achieve specific goals, primarily Tehran’s desire to expel American forces from Iraq and Syria. Iran seizes the opportunity provided by the situation in Palestinian territories as a convenient cover to act against US forces under the pretext of defending Gaza.