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Iran may not have been seeking to trigger a regional war with the drone strike that killed 3 US troops, say experts

Iran-proxy militia
A soldier stands guard at the Hashed al-shaabi forces' headquarters in Baghdad on January 25, 2024.AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
  • 3 US soldiers were killed in an attack on a US base in Jordan on Sunday.

  • Some analysts believe the attack may not have been a deliberate escalation by Iran.

  • President Joe Biden has pledged revenge for the drone strike.

The Middle East appeared to have moved closer to a regional war on Sunday after three US troops were killed and dozens more were injured in an attack on a US base in Jordan.

The drone attack was launched by the Islamic Resistance, an Iran-backed militia based in Iraq. It seemed to many analysts to signify an escalation in Iran's aggression toward the US and its allies in the region.

However, several experts are warning against such a conclusion, claiming that Iran may not have been seeking to trigger an escalation in the conflict.

On the brink of war

President Joe Biden pledged revenge for the drone strike, and early Monday Iranian-linked targets in Syria were struck, though it's unclear who was behind the attacks.

"We had a tough day last night in the Middle East," he said. "We lost three brave souls in an attack on one of our bases, and we shall respond."

The Middle East has been on the brink of wider war since October 7, 2023, when the Iran-backed Hamas militant group killed around 1,200 Israelis in terror attacks. Israel invaded Gaza in response, and conflict escalated between Israel's and Iran's allies.

Tobias Borck, an analyst on Middle Eastern security at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that Iran-backed groups in the region had been intensifying their attacks since then.

The longer the attacks continue, he said, the more the risk of casualties increases.

"You're going to kill people eventually," he said of Iran, pointing to the fact that Iran-backed groups had launched 150 attacks on US bases since last October.

Greg Brew, an Iran analyst for the Eurasia Group, echoed that assessment, commenting on X: "It doesn't track that #Iran would allow its allies in Iraq to launch 200+ attacks on US forces for three months without some expectation that it would cause US casualties."

And The New York Times reported that US officials are trying to establish if the attack was a deliberate escalation or the same kind of attack the US has faced for months that managed to get through by luck.

Some analysts are also questioning why the drone, which struck a logistics support base, wasn't intercepted by US air defenses, which have prevented hundreds of other attacks that could have resulted in casualties.

A US official said that the drone was approaching the base at the same time as a US drone was expecting to return, meaning air defense systems were switched off, according to a US defense official cited by CBS.

Borck said without more data on the specific type of drone and technology used, it was impossible to say if the militia anticipated the likelihood of the attack evading air defenses.

US struggles to deter Iran

US attempts to deter Iranian proxies have so far been met with little success.

Despite being targeted by waves of US and UK airstrikes, Houthi militants in Yemen have continued to attack ships in the Red Sea, setting fire to an oil tanker last week. US airstrikes on Iran-linked militia bases in Iraq did not deter the Jordan attack.

With a presidential election approaching, Iran is likely calculating that Biden is keen to avoid becoming entangled in a massive regional conflict, emboldening its allies to continue attacking US targets.

However, Biden is already being criticized by Republicans for being too cautious in responding to Iranian aggression, and the president will have to respond to the airbase strike in a way that's emphatic enough to silence domestic critics, Robert Dover, a professor focussed on international security at the University of Hull told BI.

His key decision will be whether to launch attacks on Iranian targets outside the country, or in Iran itself, treading a balance between sending a clear message to Tehran and not causing the conflict to spiral out of control.

"The geopolitical landscape for this president has become an awful lot more hazardous overnight," Dover said.

Read the original article on Business Insider