Iran halts attacks in Syria and Iraq, American message received

US Marines conduct exercises near the al-Tanf base of the International Coalition in eastern Homs province - September 7, 2018 (US Central Command)

US Marines conduct exercises near the al-Tanf base of the International Coalition in eastern Homs province - September 7, 2018 (US Central Command)

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The United States Department of Defense (Pentagon) welcomed the halt of attacks against its forces in Syria and Iraq for about ten days, attributing the cessation to strikes it carried out in Syria and Iraq at the beginning of February.

Sabrina Singh, Deputy Press Secretary of the Pentagon, said during a press conference on Thursday, February 22, that there had been no attacks on US bases since February 4, indicating that her country welcomes the absence of any attacks.

Singh attributed the halt of attacks to the US strikes executed by the United States in Syria and Iraq, considering the operation as having sent a “very strong” message to Iran.

She added that the United States will continue to send messages of this kind if necessary, and will do so at the time and place of its choosing.

Singh emphasized that Iran funds armed groups in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, stating that it is certain that Iran has its fingerprints behind the support, whether financial, training, or equipment.

The American message has been received

The Arab Center Washington DC, a research center, released a report containing an analysis by the researcher Gregory Aftandilian on the escalation in Syria and Iraq between Washington and Tehran, stating that despite its claim of not controlling the Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, Iran seems to have influenced these groups to stop launching more strikes.

This cessation followed US strikes that targeted 85 positions in retaliation against an attack on American forces in Jordan.

Aftandilian believes that Washington sent a message to Tehran, suggesting that Iran itself might be the next target, creating concern among Iranian officials that an American strike on their country could destabilize the regime, especially since there is already widespread hatred toward it by various segments of the Iranian society.

No Iranian officials want to test the hypothesis that an American attack would trigger mass unrest within the Islamic Republic; they recognize that their military capabilities are no match for those of the United States.

The researcher added that for all these reasons, there have been no militia attacks on US military personnel or bases in Iraq and Syria since February 4, although the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed that a pro-Iran militia force hit one of its bases in Syria, which resulted in the death of six of its fighters.

Tehran has a second reason for stopping these attacks, according to the report, which is its desire to keep the American-Iraqi discussions going about an organized withdrawal of US forces, and perhaps it believes that the tit-for-tat strikes would have an effect on the United States staying longer.

Aftandilian views Iran’s ultimate goal as reducing the American presence in the region, and if it cannot achieve this through violence, then perhaps allowing diplomacy to succeed is the next best option.

Inevitable withdrawal

During his presidency, Donald Trump considered the American presence in eastern Syria unnecessary after the Islamic State organization lost its territorial control, which became apparent after a phone call in October 2019 with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who objected to the US partnership with Kurdish forces banned in Turkey. Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from a Kurdish area, as reported by the American newspaper The New York Times.

In January of the past year, the American website Al-Monitor cited sources familiar with discussions to determine the method and timing of withdrawal from Syria (which it did not name) that the US Department of Defense proposed a plan to its Syrian allies in the SDF to engage in the campaign against the Islamic State in partnership with the Syrian regime.

It added that this plan came as a part of a renewed review of US policy in Syria, which is currently taking place in the US State Department, and which has been exploited by Turkey, the main ally of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Aftandilian’s interpretation of these leaks considers them indicators that the United States is reassessing its policies in Syria and believes that a US withdrawal is inevitable, as it is not possible for the United States to remain in the region indefinitely.

He added that it is unlikely that the Joe Biden administration would support the withdrawal of US forces from northeastern Syria before the presidential elections next November, as the imagery of the United States abandoning the Syrian Kurds could have the same impact as the withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the same time, Biden might be able to pull the forces out after the elections. If Trump returns to presidency, this withdrawal is almost certain.

The researcher believes that a number of factors support Washington’s direction towards withdrawal, the first being the danger facing its soldiers in Syria and Iraq amid the repeated attacks against them, along with no desire to enter a wide-scale war with Iran, and possibly a willingness to appease Turkey, potentially using the American withdrawal from Syria as a bargaining chip for Ankara’s recent decision to accept Sweden’s NATO membership.

Iran wishes for Washington’s withdrawal

The United States has acknowledged Iran’s intent and the desire of its proxy militias in the region to push coalition forces to withdraw early from Syria and Iraq, during the rise of these groups targeting US bases in Syria and Iraq.

Pentagon Press Secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, stated during a recorded press conference on November 27, 2023, that Iranian proxies have been exploiting the ongoing war in Gaza to push the United States towards withdrawal from Syria and Iraq.

He added that the groups loyal to Iran have long aspired to see American forces leave, pointing out that the presence of his country’s forces in Iraq came at the invitation of the Iraqi government, focusing only on defeating the Islamic State, without referring to justifications for their deployment in Syria.

Since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza, October 7, 2023, there have been nearly 170 attacks on US bases in Syria and Iraq, according to what was said by Sabrina Singh, Deputy Press Secretary of the Pentagon, during a press conference.

Following US attacks

On February 2, Washington stated that it had struck 85 sites containing command and control centers, intelligence facilities, and weapons storage used by Iran-backed militias to attack American forces and coalition forces.

The spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, John Kirby, said following the same attacks that his country hit targets that would impact the ability of Iran-backed militias to launch future strikes against Americans, according to a recorded press conference published by the White House.

Reuters cited US officials estimating that Iran was the one who made the drone that attacked the American base.

The American attacks came in response to a drone attack on January 28 that killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others at a military point known as “Tower 22” on the tri-border area between Syria, Iraq, and Jordan.

 

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