In retaliation for a drone attack that killed three British service people just days earlier, US aircraft attacked dozens of locations in Iraq and Syria on February 2, 2024.
The first attacks in retaliation came after a deadly attack on an American base in Jordan that US authorities attributed to militias supported by Iran. American bombs also hit locations connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC).
In order to reveal what the US strikes hoped to accomplish and what might happen next, the Conversation turned to American University’s Sara Harmouch and Nakissa Jahanbani, both authorities on Iran and its network of intermediaries.
In the US’s hostile hits, who was the target?
The US’s response went beyond just focusing on the group behind the helicopter strike on January 28: Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyah bi as- Iraq, or Islamic Resistance in Iraq.
The name” Islamic Weight in Iraq” does not specifically relate to any one group. Instead, it includes an umbrella group that has incorporated a number of Iran-backed armies into the area since about 2020.
Iran formally denied taking part in the helicopter strike on January 28. However, it is well known that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is a part of the sites of military organizations that Tehran finances, equips, and trains through the Quds Force, an organization that belongs to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
More than 150 strikes on bases housing US forces in Syria and Iraq have been attributed to members of this system of militias supported by Iran in recent months.
As a result, the US hostile strikes targeted more than 85 locations in Iraq and Syria, all of which were connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian-supporting organizations.
The stated goal of the US operation is to stop further Iranian-backed hostility. In particular, the US carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria, reportedly killing at least 18 members of the militia group and destroying dozens of locations in Al-Mayadeen and Deir el-Zour, an important stronghold of Iranian-backed forces.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security organization in Iraq made up of organizations supported by Iran, reported that 16 of its users, including both combatants and medical personnel, had died in the US attacks.
The US’s response to these groups was noticeably stronger than other new activities, reflecting an increase in attempts to counter the dangers posed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its allies.
What is known about the strike-targeted community?
Following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq initially emerged as a reaction to overseas military appearance and political interventions.
Pro-Tehrani Iraqi armies were collectively referred to as the Islamic Weight in Iraq, which gave them the freedom to carry out attacks under a single flag. It eventually developed into a top for armies supported by Iran that operated outside of Iraq, including those in Syria and Lebanon.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq now functions as a unified power as opposed to an independent institution. That is to say, as a community, its goals frequently coincide with Iran’s desire to maintain its influence throughout the region, but at the federal level, the parties in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon each have their own goals.
These armies properly hide the identities of the real offenders in their operations while operating under the single banner of Islamic Resistance. This was evident in the fatal harm on Tower 22, a US military installation in Jordan, on January 28, 2024.
Although it is clear that a military supported by Iran organized the aircraft attack, identifying the precise faction within this large coalition is challenging.
This intentional method of concealing the specific source of attacks makes it difficult to lead attribution and presents difficulties for nations trying to pinpoint and punish the exact perpetrators.
What are the attacks ‘ anticipated goals?
The IRGC and its Iranian-backed proxies ‘ operational capabilities, weaponry, and supply networks are expected to be significantly hampered by the operation, according to US Central Command, which announced this on February2.
The attacks targeted important infrastructure, including command and control centers, knowledge buildings, storage facilities for rockets and missiles, as well as logistics and munitions facilities. Their latest operating infrastructure must be degraded, but future attacks must also be avoided.
The incident came after it was discovered that an Iranian-made aircraft had been used in an attack on Jordan.
The US has also launched new sanctions against IRGC soldiers and officials, dropped criminal charges against people involved in selling fuel to support Hamas and Hezbollah, and launched cyberattacks against Iran as part of a larger offensive to combat these groups.
What impact will this have on Iran’s approach to the area?
A class associated with Iran, Kataib Hezbollah, announced a halt to attacks on American targets before the US response on February 2 in response to the drone incident in Jordan, which was seen as having severe repercussions.
Although this has been met with skepticism in Washington, it is possible that the withdrawal was the result of stress from Tehran.
However, the development nevertheless reveals the interaction of power and freedom among the so-called Axis of Opposition groups, which oppose the US existence in the Middle East and are to varying degrees supported by Iran.
The US attacks act as a varied deterrent to further hostilities from Iran and its proxies, along with punishment and charges. The strategy aims to destroy Iran’s capacity to work strength in Syria and Iraq by focusing on critical infrastructure like command and control centers, brains operations, and weapons storage facilities.
The broad and comprehensive nature of the US response denotes a strong stance against threats to US interests and provincial security.
Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation while limiting its support for local proxy is the goal. This highlights the US’s commitment to fend off Iranian influence, which has the potential to undermine Tehrans ‘ ability to form relationships, negotiate roles, and regional engagement strategies.
However, it is still unclear whether strikes and sanctions will be effective in preventing Iranian-backed anger. According to historical styles, attacks from Iranian-backed groups have never entirely stopped as a result of US actions since the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7 and as recently as 2017.
The Biden government’s strategy, which focuses on identifying the monetary support systems for Egyptian proxies, aims to understand this situation without escalating the conflict. However, the effects of such sanctions on Iran and the larger regional relationships are complicated.
Any clear US retaliation against Iranian interests could, in the short term, cause regional tensions and the cycle of tit-for-tat strikes between US and Iranian-backed forces, raising the possibility of an even larger regional conflict.
Additionally, given that the Israel-Has war is the target of the attack’s pretext, any US response could have a negative impact on the outcome of that conflict, which would have an effect on future diplomatic efforts and the provincial balance of power.
Iran may continue to support proxies through ammunition, money, and military knowledge to lessen the impact and legitimacy of the US and its allies in the region, according to its “forward defense” strategy, which focuses on addressing threats directly before they become ones within its borders.
This emphasizes the fragile balance needed to counter Iranian-backed anger in order to protect US passions without escalating into a larger regional conflict.
Nakissa Jahanbani, Assistant Professor at the Combating Terrorism Center, United States Military Academy West Point, and Sara Harmouch, PhD Candidate, School of Public Affairs, American University
Under a Creative Commons license, this article is republished from The Conversation. Read the article in its entirety.