After US strikes, Iran’s proxies scale back attacks on US bases

    WORLD  28 February 2024 - 05:04

    The New York Times carries an article about, Caliber.Az reprints the article.

    Tehran, wary of igniting open warfare with Washington, has told militia groups it backs to curtail assaults on targets such as military installations, Iranian and American officials say.

    Iran has made a concerted effort to rein in militias in Iraq and Syria after the United States retaliated with a series of airstrikes for the killing of three US Army reservists this month.

    Initially, there were regional concerns that the tit-for-tat violence would lead to an escalation of the Middle East conflict. But since the February 2 US strikes, American officials say, there have been no attacks by Iran-backed militias on American bases in Iraq and only two minor ones in Syria.

    Before then, the US military logged at least 170 attacks against American troops in four months, Pentagon officials said.

    The relative quiet reflects decisions by both sides and suggests that Iran does have some level of control over the militias.

    The Biden administration has made clear that Tehran would be held accountable for miscalculations and operations by proxy forces, but it has avoided any direct attack on Iran. The US response “may be having some effect,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said in an interview.

    “The question is are the militias attacking or not,” he added, “and at least for now, they are not.”

    The lull also marks a sharp turnaround by Iran. Tehran had for months directed its regional proxies in Iraq and Syria to attack American bases in the Middle East as part of a wider battle against Israel, which is fighting Hamas in Gaza.

    The American and Iranian officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

    As the proxies’ attacks intensified, culminating in the deaths of three American soldiers, Iranian leaders worried that the level of autonomy provided to the militias was starting to backfire and might drive them into war, according to Iranian and American officials.

    “They are scared of direct confrontation with the US, they know that if Americans are killed again it would mean war,” said Sina Azodi, a lecturer at George Washington University and an expert on Iran’s national security. “They had to put the brakes on the militia and convince them that a war with the US could harm Tehran first and then by extension the entire axis.”

    Iran finances, arms and provides technical support and training for a network of militant groups in the region that it calls the Axis of Resistance.

    A burned-out car is lifted by a crane above a crowd on a street.

    The groups include Hezbollah in Lebanon; the Houthis in Yemen; militias in Iraq, such as Kataib Hezbollah and Hashd al-Shaabi; Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza; and militias in Syria. While Iran directs an overall strategy to the axis, the level of day-to-day control and coordination runs a spectrum. Tehran has most influence over Hezbollah, with the Syrian and Iraqi militia falling in the middle and the Houthis being the most autonomous.

    The Iranian effort to rein in the forces began soon after the killing of the three American soldiers in a drone attack in Jordan on January 28, as Washington vowed a forceful response.

    Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the high-level Iranian general killed by an American drone strike in 2020, kept the Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria on a tight leash. That was largely because, for most of his tenure, war was raging in both countries, and he commanded the militia to fight Americans and then Islamic State terrorist groups. But when Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani succeeded him, most of those conflicts had settled, and General Ghaani assumed a hands-off leadership style, setting only broad directions, according to analysts.

    General Ghaani, commander in chief of the Quds Forces, the branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps tasked with overseeing the proxies, has nonetheless been involved in coordinating the strategy toward Israel and the United States for the various militias during the current war in Gaza.

    He led a series of emergency meetings in late January in Tehran and Baghdad with strategists, senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and senior commanders of the militia to redraw plans and avert war with the United States, according to two Iranians affiliated with the Guards, one of them a military strategist. Reuters first reported on the general’s visit to Baghdad.

    In Baghdad, General Ghaani held a long meeting with representatives of all the Shia militant groups who operate under the umbrella of a collective they call Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The collective had been carrying out and then claiming responsibility for dozens of attacks on American bases, and Washington blamed the group for the drone attack that killed the Americans.

    General Ghaani told them that Iran and the various militia groups had made enough gains in pressuring the United States because President Biden was facing intense criticism for his staunch support of Israel and fissures had emerged between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the two Iranians affiliated with the Guards said. A war between Tehran and Washington could also jeopardize the long-term goal of rooting out the United States from the region, he told the group, the two Iranians said.

    Two of the larger Iraqi militias, Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba, at first fiercely resisted General Ghaani’s demand that they pause attacks on Americans, arguing that fighting U.S. troops was integral to their ideology and identity, the two Iranians said.

    A man with gray hair and sunglasses makes his way through a crowd.

    Influential politicians in Iraq, including senior clerics known as the marjaiah who are based in Najaf, a Shiite holy city, joined the efforts to persuade the militias to pause attacks. The Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, also played a role, telling the commanders of the Iraqi militia and General Ghaani that continued attacks on US forces complicated negotiations between Baghdad and Washington for an American troop withdrawal from his country, according to Iranian and Iraqi officials.

    The commanders conceded. Kataib Hezbollah announced that it was halting attacks on American bases and that its decisions were independent from Iran.

    The outcome of General Ghaani’s consultations was a new strategy that called for Iraqi militias to stop all attacks on American bases in Iraq, including in the Kurdistan region in the north, and the US Embassy in Baghdad. In Syria, militia groups have been asked to lower the intensity of attacks on American bases to avoid fatalities, according to Iranian officials and American intelligence assessments. But the groups active against Israel in Lebanon and Yemen would continue at pace, the Iranians familiar with the strategy said.

    Once the attacks on Americans subsided, the United States withheld striking at least one senior militia leader after February 2 to avoid disrupting the pause and stoking more hostilities, according to a Defense Department official.

    Another US official said the Pentagon was prepared to hit more militia targets if necessary but had determined that carrying out more strikes now would be counterproductive.

    The military strategist with the Guards said that Iran believed a direct war with the United States would work in favour of Israel at a time when world opinion had turned against it because of the heavy toll in civilian deaths and suffering in Gaza. After more than a decade, the strategist said, Iran believes that it is enjoying a surge of popularity among Arabs, who are angry that their own countries’ leaders are not doing enough to support Palestinians.

    Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said last week, “Our assessment is that Iran doesn’t seek a wider regional conflict.”

    “But they do support these militia groups that attack our forces,” she added.

    Iran’s overall policy is to keep multiple fronts against Israel boiling through proxies as long as the war in Gaza rages, even if the Tehran-linked militias are avoiding striking US bases.

    Soldiers in U.S. Army uniforms carry a coffin draped with a flag out of a plane.

    Hezbollah in Lebanon exchanges almost daily fire with Israel’s military, and the Houthis in Yemen attack ships in the Red Sea and try to block commercial vessels from reaching Israeli ports.

    The attacks by Hezbollah and the Houthis will intensify if Israel launches an offensive against Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where more than a million civilians are trapped, according to the two members of the Guards familiar with Iran’s new strategy. Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas leader, said at a news conference in Iran this past week that “any attack on Rafah will be met with a fierce response from the resistance.”

    American officials acknowledged that they faced a particular challenge with the Houthis. US strategy on the Houthis is to whittle away at the group’s formidable arsenal, prevent weapons transfers from Iran and press for a cease-fire in Gaza.

    While a key part of the Washington-Tehran confrontation is on a hiatus, other destabilizing dynamics in the region remain active and unpredictable. Iran and Israel are engaged in an continuing shadow war, including a recent covert assault by Israel on two main gas pipelines in Iran and strikes on residential compounds linked to Iran in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Iran has not yet openly retaliated against Israel after those attacks.

    Colin P. Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, an intelligence and security consultancy, said: “Iran has this uncanny ability to walk up right to the line and not cross it.”

    But, he added, “It doesn’t feel stable, and it doesn’t feel like we are over the hump, and things could really change at any moment.”


    Subscribe to our Telegram channel

Read also

IDF strikes Hezbollah military facilities in Lebanon

17 April 2024 - 21:18

UK urges European countries to increase defence spending

17 April 2024 - 20:45

Swiss parliament wants ban on extremist symbols

17 April 2024 - 20:58

Tackling 10 prejudices about hydrogen following Clean Transition Dialogues

17 April 2024 - 20:00

UK PM Sunak plans to create "smoke-free generation" with tough measures on tobacco

17 April 2024 - 19:13

Europe restarts magnesium mining to counter reliance on China

18 April 2024 - 03:05
Latest news

    Europe restarts magnesium mining to counter reliance on China

    18 April 2024 - 03:05

    Lithuania, Rheinmetall sign agreement for 155mm ammunition plant

    18 April 2024 - 01:03

    Want to move to Europe?

    17 April 2024 - 23:00

    IDF strikes Hezbollah military facilities in Lebanon

    17 April 2024 - 21:18

    Georgian PM accuses country’s President of being an “agent of foreign influence”

    In rebuke on transparency bill

    17 April 2024 - 21:15

    Azerbaijan to showcase climate change adaptation at COP29

    FAO official says

    17 April 2024 - 21:10

    Swiss parliament wants ban on extremist symbols

    17 April 2024 - 20:58

    Protest rally against foreign agents bill resumes in Tbilisi

    17 April 2024 - 20:50

    UK urges European countries to increase defence spending

    17 April 2024 - 20:45

    AZAL, DFS aviation services forge key partnership to equip Lachin airport

    17 April 2024 - 20:33

    Turkish FM, Hamas leader discuss Gaza aid, cease-fire

    17 April 2024 - 20:20

    Russian peacekeepers' mission in Karabakh accomplished

    Member of State Duma says

    17 April 2024 - 20:08

    Tackling 10 prejudices about hydrogen following Clean Transition Dialogues

    17 April 2024 - 20:00

    Azerbaijani Ombudswoman raises mine issue in liberated territories at meeting with UNDP rep

    17 April 2024 - 19:53

    Azerbaijan, Tatarstan forge stronger ties across trade, innovation, humanitarian endeavors

    17 April 2024 - 19:40

    Azerbaijani FM, CICMA executive director engage on chairmanship priorities & collaboration

    17 April 2024 - 19:32

    Azerbaijan plans Europe-bound exports of green hydrogen made in "recently liberated territories"

    Article by Hydrogen Insight

    17 April 2024 - 19:28

    UK PM Sunak plans to create "smoke-free generation" with tough measures on tobacco

    17 April 2024 - 19:13

    Azerbaijan and Albania announce visa-free regime

    Legislative progress underway

    17 April 2024 - 18:59

    Azerbaijan, Tatarstan discuss developmental directions of economic partnership

    17 April 2024 - 18:46

    OSCE Chair-in-Office due in Azerbaijan

    17 April 2024 - 18:30

    Armenia's economy lacks development

    Expert highlights concerns

    17 April 2024 - 18:15

    Azerbaijan's Air Force, Air Defence Forces conduct tactical exercises in Nakhchivan

    Video, Photo footage from drills

    17 April 2024 - 18:01

    UN continues support for Azerbaijan's demining efforts in Karabakh region

    17 April 2024 - 17:48

    Azerbaijani president designates Shusha as 2024 Youth Capital of OIC

    Action plan underway

    17 April 2024 - 17:35

    Czech Republic collects 500,000 shells for Ukraine

    17 April 2024 - 17:23

    President: Iran’s operation shatters Israeli military’s invincibility myth

    17 April 2024 - 17:10

    Iran seeks international backing following missile strikes on Israel

    Raisi calls Russia & Qatari leaders amid tension

    17 April 2024 - 16:56

    Georgian parliament approves draft law on foreign agents

    17 April 2024 - 16:41

    Azerbaijan, Israel discuss energy cooperation

    17 April 2024 - 16:27

    Is Ukraine on the edge?

    Big vulnerabilities

    17 April 2024 - 16:13

    Azerbaijan, Pakistan discuss defence cooperation

    17 April 2024 - 15:59

    United States enhances support for Armenia

    17 April 2024 - 15:45

    EU interested in Azerbaijan's development of Middle Corridor


    17 April 2024 - 15:31

    President Aliyev, Kairat Sarybay discuss COP29, green transport concept

    17 April 2024 - 15:27

    President’s aide confirms Russian peacekeepers’ withdrawal from Azerbaijan

    The process has already started!

    17 April 2024 - 15:19

    French ambassador recalled from Azerbaijan amidst bilateral strain

    Macron admits defeat

    17 April 2024 - 15:19

    Hereditary Azerbaijanophobe in Armenia and his provocations

    17 April 2024 - 15:04

    US, Iraq discuss Iraq-Türkiye oil pipeline

    17 April 2024 - 14:50

    Türkiye "neutralizes" 4 PKK/YPG terrorists in northern Syria

    17 April 2024 - 14:35

All news