US must resort to "direct intimidation" against Iran, report suggests

US must resort to "direct intimidation" against Iran, report suggests

Shafaq News / The American newspaper "The Hill" urged President Joe Biden's administration to directly target Iran itself, not through its proxies, in order to deter the attacks faced by U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

The newspaper considered that the American responses so far have "failed" to achieve their deterrent goal, warning that Tehran's strategy, aiming to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel, could succeed.

Below is the text of the report:

On Nov. 21, the Department of Defense confirmed a fourth round of retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed proxy militias, which had attacked the U.S. 66 times during the preceding month, injuring 62 U.S military personnel. Considering the pattern of the conflict and the previous three attacks, this will not deter Tehran.

The first round of strikes happened on Oct. 26, after Iran-backed attacks caused 21 injuries, and one contractor died from a heart attack during a false alarm for an air attack in Iraq. The Pentagon reported on Nov. 6 that proxies of Iran had carried out 38 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct.17. 45 American service members were injured in total. The administration struck at Iran’s proxies on Nov. 8, but this retaliation clearly failed to deter Iran.

Five days later, the Pentagon confirmed that the number had risen to 46, with 11 more injured. Out of the total 56 service members injured, two dozen have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Yet despite the initial failure to deter Iran by attacking its proxies, the administration struck at Iran’s proxy forces again on Nov. 13, which also failed to achieve its deterrent objective.

Yet the attacks and injuries continued, prompting the most recent, fourth round of similar strikes. As might be expected, Iran’s proxy attacks go on daily, nonetheless.

Enforcing deterrence is possible only if the Biden administration targets the Islamic Republic’s strategic assets. If not, Iran’s strategy to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel could succeed.

Deterrence requires resolve and capabilities. Iran has feared Israel’s resolve and capabilities (though the Oct. 7 attack might suggest a shift), but America does not instill fear, despite its capabilities. So, when Israel conducts military operations against Iran in Syria and Iraq and covert ones against its nuclear facilities, Iran in turn targets American forces in the Middle East in its double proxy war with Israel. To deter Israel, Iran has used its proxies to pressure the United States, expecting that the U.S. government would in turn exert pressure on Israel to de-escalate. Put simply, America has become the proxy for Iran to retaliate against Israel.

According to the New York Times, the administration reached an understanding with Iran over the summer that, in exchange for the release of frozen Iranian assets, Iran would stop its proxy attacks. Iran abided by this agreement until the release of the frozen assets in Qatari custody and the beginning of the Gaza war. Since then, it has escalated its attacks.

In addition to the four rounds of airstrikes, the Biden administration has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region. None of these actions has deterred Iran’s proxies; rather, the number of attacks has grown. Iran will continue to escalate, leaving the U.S. government with three options: concede to the demands of the Islamic Republic to stop the attacks; make no adjustments and continue to endure the assaults; or escalate retaliatory response to make Iran stop. Could Iran succeed in pushing the Biden administration to ask Israel to cease operations in Gaza to end increasing attacks against U.S. military personnel?

Yet deterrence by punishment is possible. The United States has never been successful in deterring or coercing Iran by punishing its proxies. But the only times that it exerted direct, strategic cost on the Islamic Republic, it succeeded in enforcing deterrence. The first time was the 1988 Tanker War, when President Reagan sank six of Iran’s 12 ships. It ended Iran’s aggression and convinced then-leader Ruhollah Khomeini to end the Iran–Iraq War.

Second, after the 2020 killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, Iran significantly reduced its aggression against U.S. forces until Biden took power. Since then, it has resumed attacks on U.S. forces and gradually escalated them.

Iran has no stomach for a direct confrontation with the United States. Domestically, it is more vulnerable than ever. The regime was alarmed that Iranians wouldn’t rally around its flag, and the U.S. killing of Soleimani proved the substance of this fear. Despite the funeral’s coverage in the U.S. media, which failed to note that “mourners” were coerced and offered financial incentives for attending, Iranians were in such a celebratory spirit that bakeries ran out of cakes, and days later they took to the streets to protest the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner during the regime’s retaliatory strikes. Today, some young Iranians refer to the slain general as “cutlet Qassem,” poking fun at his burnt corpse.

The Gaza war has reemphasized that Iranians won’t rally behind the values of the regime, either, including anti-Zionism. Where reporting on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was once wall-to-wall in domestic outlets, the regime’s media have covered the current war much more cautiously, and there has been an emphasis on successful Palestinian strikes.

The regime simply doesn’t want to create a demand for direct action within its own base. The regime’s increasingly audacious attacks against U.S. forces are the result of a confidence that it will not pay a price for its actions. Even in the two instances that the U.S. military directly attacked Iran, both happened away from Iranian soil.

Showing military resolve by punishing Iran directly and severely would force the regime to drastically change its strategy. Forty-five years of sanctions have limited the regime’s capabilities but utterly failed to deter it. Tehran’s view of human life bears no resemblance to the U.S. government’s: It does not see the loss of life as a punishment. Rather, Iran’s emphasis on martyrdom devalues human life; it doesn’t view the killing of its proxies and low-rank military personnel as a cost or a political liability.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the regime’s other proxies throughout the Middle East exist to ensure the survivability of the Islamic Republic, not the other way around. Simply put, neutralizing Iran’s tactical assets will not result in strategic or policy change because they are expendable mercenaries. To effect such a change, the U.S. must either neutralize strategic military assets or threaten the regime’s hold on power.

If the U.S. doesn’t enforce deterrence, the Islamic Republic will continue to escalate its proxy attacks, exploiting the administration’s fear of a new military front and possibly succeed in driving a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem. Experience debunks Washington’s fear of escalation with Tehran. The regime’s cautious approach to escalation and reluctance to directly attack American military personnel belie its rhetoric and expose Tehran’s rational fear of a confrontation with the U.S. military.

Taking advantage of this fear will deter Iran. If the U.S. is serious about deterring Iran and protecting the lives and health of its forces in the region, it will use the Soleimani assassination as the prime example of a successful strategy.

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