How Biden chose the wrong target to hurt Iran
Authorized by President Joe Biden, the US military carried out airstrikes last week against weapons storage facilities used by Iran-backed militias in the Iraq-Syria border region.
The attack provoked a wave of condemnation, although the White House defended its action as a self-defense measure to protect the interests of the US and its allies. The Department of Defense said US forces were in Iraq at the invitation of its government for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi security forces in their efforts to defeat Daesh, but Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was not at all pleased with the US action against the very militias that are trying to weaken his powers.
Kadhimi’s office said the attack was a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and that Baghdad’s National Security Council was studying all available legal options to prevent the recurrence of conduct that “violatesIraq's airspace and territory.”
These conflicting views reflect the nature of current US-Iraq relations, and give a clear picture of the magnitude of Iran’s influence on a supposedly sovereign country.
If Biden wants to send an important message of deterrence, to show that he is prepared to act appropriately to protect the US and its personnel in Iraq, he should have chosen the appropriate target and the right location.
The Pentagon said two Iran-backed militia groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, used the bases targeted by the US to launch drone attacks on US assets. In fact, these militias are not merely backed by Iran — they and others are under the direct command of Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, commander of the Quds Force, the powerful overseas division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Striking a couple of bases in remote areas does no serious damage to the structure of these militias, so it was a waste of money and ammunition on the wrong target. If the US wants to send a clear and firm message to Tehran that it will no longer tolerate hostile acts against its interests and those of its allies in Iraq and the region, the place to do that is Vienna — where talks are currently taking place to revive the moribund Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
The clear path to peace, and the only successful US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, is to focus on and expand the Abraham Accords to include more countries.
The Biden administration should not ignore the assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency, published in April, that Iran has been focusing its efforts on bolstering the capabilities of partners and proxies to maintain strategic depth and options to counter the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. “Tehran has used its relationships to challenge a continued US presence in the region and encourage a US military drawdown,” the report said. It concluded that Iran sought to derail Israel’s normalization of relations in the region, using a combination of threats from its proxies and partners with diplomatic outreach.
How did the White House react to such a dangerous conclusion? Instead of focusing on how to weaken the regime in Tehran by tightening the economic sanctions to limit its ability to fund and train its proxy militias, the US Treasury released three Iranians from sanctions, at the same time claiming that the decision had nothing to do with the talks in Vienna.
These three individuals are linked to the Iranian conglomerate Mammut Industries and its subsidiary Mammut Diesel, which were accused of suppling ballistic missile equipment to Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which oversees the development of Iran’s liquid-propelled missiles.
When it comes to a US strategy in Iraq, Iran has the upper hand regardless of what Prime Minister Kadhimi says or promises, because he is basically powerless.
Since taking office, most of President Biden’s actions indicate that he is planning to implement the failed foreign policies of Barack Obama.
Instead of pulling the US air defense systems out of the Middle East, which clearly imperils the country’s troops and its strongest allies in the region, the Biden administration should have deployed US military strength as leverage when dealing with rogue states.
The clear path to peace, and the only successful US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, is to focus on and expand the Abraham Accords to include more countries. But Biden and his colleagues in the Democratic Party will not do that, for one simple reason — because the accords were an achievement of their arch enemy, Donald J. Trump.
• Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi