Despite the recent airstrikes on Eastern Syria having represented a continuation of the same old aggressive US foreign policy in the Middle-East, the strikes may have been more about playing politics with Iran than any sort of strategic gain.
US President Joe Biden’s airstrikes against the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Eastern Syria last week were not a response strike. Instead, the strikes were the Biden administration’s way of playing one of two possible political strategies with Iran.
The airstrikes achieved nothing strategically for the United States and have not made any significant dent in the Iranian-allied Iraqi group. The PMU have also not been proven to have ties to the rogue Shia militant group Awliya Al-Dam which claimed the attack – two weeks ago – against US forces in Erbil, Iraq. So the US government claim of a retaliation made little to no sense as a justification.
An investigation was launched into the Erbil attack, which killed a civilian contractor and injured a number of others including a US service member. However the investigation had only reached its preliminary conclusion by the time of the US strike, indicating that the US government had its sights set on striking targets regardless of the truth of the matter.
Also, the attack on the PMU was not launched against the group – which is part of the Iraqi armed forces – inside of Iraq, but instead Syria. This could indicate two things: the US has trouble accurately targeting the PMU inside of Iraq; and the US was set on sending a message to Iran and not the real perpetrators of the attack. Within the space of a week, prior to Biden’s first authorized strikes on Syria, the US media had also hyped up the attack, even falsely describing Awliya Al-Dam as being backed by Iran. The massive amount of coverage on this relatively small attack on US forces provides reason to believe that they wanted a lot of attention on their so-called retaliatory strikes to the attack.
The reason for the attack, I believe, is for one of two probable reasons. The first possibility is that Joe Biden is looking to re-enter the JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal from a strong position and wants to come off as ready to challenge Iran on its regional alliances, placing the US in a dominant position over Iran. If the US government is going to abandon any of its sanctions imposed upon the Islamic Republic, it would like to do so whilst not looking like it has conceded to Iran’s demands. Iran is staying persistent in its demand that it must be the US that takes the first step to re-enter the nuclear deal, as it was the US that first unilaterally withdrew and pursued its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.
The second possible reason for the strikes, as has been pointed out by various political analysts, is that Joe Biden is seeking to push Iran further away. This strategy would entail following the neoconservative doctrine of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ and indicates a tough road ahead for Iran and its allies in the region. Certainly, this strategy of attempting to bully Iran into a corner, whether through military means and sanctions to bring about their destruction, or through pressure to force Iran to return to the JCPOA, is a concerning one.
The day following Bidens’ strikes on Syria, an Israeli tanker was then mysteriously damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The Israeli government immediately pointed the finger at Iran and vowed a response for such an act of aggression. This alleged attack is an interesting one, as Iran does have the capability of targeting an Israeli asset like this, and strategically speaking, the damage done to the ship was committed in order to achieve maximum expenses on the Israeli side.
The original Israeli media narrative was that the tanker was struck with missiles or rockets, a claim which clearly makes no sense considering the nature of the damage to the ship. Then, after having further examined the damage, the Israeli press corrected themselves and began to claim that tactical mines were used.
Whilst Iran has flatly rejected any involvement in the incident, the Israeli government continues to insist that there was an Iranian role. Israeli media have even gone as far as claiming that Israel’s recent airstrikes on Syria were a response to Iran’s alleged attack.
If Iran’s government did commit the attack, the strategy of targeting an Israeli tanker – perhaps with a scuba squad released from a submarine – and inflicting damage without sinking the vessel, would have been a smart approach. The reason why this would make sense, is because hitting the vessel without sinking it costs more money and threatens Israeli industry.
If the attack was not Iran and was instead some kind of false-flag operation or even committed by another adversary, it could have been used in order to stop Biden from coming together with Iran. This deception would allow the US to claim Iran’s government is again aggressing and would present the need for Biden to jump in with more offensive actions to put them on their back foot.
Israel’s recent strikes on Syria, targeting the West of the country in the vicinity of Damascus, were portrayed as strikes also committed against “Iranian-backed groups”. The narrative presented here, by Syrian opposition media, as well as the Western/Israeli press, is completely false. There is no evidence that Israel has struck sites where Iranians or Iranian-backed groups operate in Syria, so far this year. Instead, the 8 Israeli strikes on Syrian targets this year alone, have been positions belonging to the Syrian military and have resulted in civilian casualties.
Whilst the US strikes in the East of Syria did target Iranian-backed groups, the media is simply lying about what Israeli airstrikes in the West of the country hit. If Israel did want to strike Iranian-backed groups, it could just as easily strike Eastern Syria where there are no air defenses to deal with.
Instead of actually striking with the intent of inflicting meaningful damage, the airstrikes are committed with the intent of conducting psychological warfare against Iran. What is perhaps the most troubling part of this whole scenario is that there is little care for how Israel and the US governments use Syria as a punching bag, in order to garner political capital.