The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last week fired 12 ballistic missiles at the US Consulate and military base in Irbil, northern Iraq. The missiles were probably launched from Iranian territory, although this has not been publicly confirmed.
Although the attack is a serious escalation in Iran’s reckless behavior it is really nothing new. According to US Central Command: “Iran’s ballistic missile force is the most formidable in the region.” It is no secret that Tehran has been supplying its proxy forces across the region with advanced missiles and drones.
This latest strike is a continuation of a pattern of Iranian-backed proxies firing ballistic missiles at important targets throughout the Middle East, most notably in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and sometimes in Iraq.
The date and time of the latest attack is also probably no coincidence. It took place the night of March 11, the birthday of former IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani. Some observers on social media pointed out that it occurred at 1:20 a.m., which is approximately the time Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike in January 2020.
There is also the Ukrainian angle to consider. It is no secret that Russia and Iran enjoy a close relationship. For years, Moscow has provided diplomatic top cover for Tehran at the UN Secretary Council and in talks over Iran’s nuclear program. The Kremlin and the Iranian regime work hand in glove in Syria, too.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that 16,000 fighters from Syria will soon join the Russian military operation in Ukraine. If this is accurate, it is likely that these forces will be Iranian-backed groups. They will probably travel to Russia via Iran and the Caspian Sea due to restrictions placed on Russian warships and military aircraft by other countries in the region.
Also, there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of the US providing Ukraine with more advanced air defense systems. There is no better way to prevent this from happening, or at least make it more difficult, than increasing the ballistic-missile threat to US interests in the Middle East. Russia knows this and probably welcomed, if not encouraged, recent Iranian attacks.
Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that Iran may have launched this attack against the US at the behest of Russia as a form of “horizontal escalation” in response to American support for Ukraine.
But perhaps most importantly, this recent attack occurred after a year of weakness displayed by the Biden administration toward Iran. Just look at the number of attacks against the US by Tehran and its proxies since Biden entered the White House.
In February 2021, Iranian proxies fired rockets at a section of Irbil International Airport that housed a US military base. Two people were killed and eight wounded. A couple of months later, in April, a drone attack damaged a building at the airport.
Iran’s latest attack on US targets show it’s high time Biden said ‘enough is enough.’
Last October, US and Syrian opposition forces were targeted by a drone attack on Al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria. Again Iran was accused of being behind the assault. At least five drones armed with bombs attacked both the US side of the base and the side housing Syrian opposition fighters. Luckily, there were no casualties. According to US officials, Tehran provided the drones and gave the green light for the attack but it was not launched from inside Iran.
In January, Houthi missiles targeted Al-Dhafra airbase in the UAE, where Emirati, American and French soldiers are based. The US used its Patriot missile defense system to shoot down two missiles. It was the first time they had been deployed in combat since 2003.
And what has been the American response to this yearlong campaign by Iran and its proxies to target US forces in the Middle East? Nothing.
Iranian leaders know that the Biden administration is desperate for a new nuclear deal. For months, their negotiators have been leading on the US by pretending that an agreement is just around the corner. Meanwhile, they are using Washington’s desperation for a deal to squeeze out every last possible concession.
Since the Biden administration wants a deal at almost any cost, Tehran has assessed, correctly, that it is likely to turn a blind eye to Iran’s malign activities across the region.
Even with the talks with Iran in Vienna now on life support as a result of the breakdown in relations between the US and Russia over Ukraine, the White House has shown no sign of halting the negotiations.
Until Iran and its proxies are met with force they will continue to attack civilian, commercial and US military targets across the region. The first thing the Biden administration needs to do is scrap the talks with Iran about its nuclear program and revert to the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum pressure against Tehran.
The second thing the US must do is use military force to strike Iran and its proxies in a lethal but proportional manner. Drone strikes against American troops and missile attacks against their bases cannot go unanswered.
Until Iran is met with decisiveness it will continue its reign of terror. This threat is not going away. One year into his presidency, Joe Biden needs to wake up to the challenge and threat posed by Iran.
- Luke Coffey