U.S. bombs IRGC sites in eastern Syria, following attack on Erbil Airport

Austin stressed the U.S. “does not seek conflict,” but “these Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop.”
The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria is seen on Oct. 22, 2018 (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor, File)
The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria is seen on Oct. 22, 2018 (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor, File)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Early on Friday morning, the U.S. hit two sites in eastern Syria associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in response to repeated attacks from pro-Iranian militias over the past ten days on military bases in Iraq and Syria that host U.S. forces, which are deployed to those two countries as part of the anti-ISIS Coalition.

Read More: U.S.: “Iranian Fingerprints“ on Middle East Attacks

Militia attack on Erbil Airbase

The most recent of those militia attacks occurred on Thursday—an attack against U.S. forces at Erbil Airbase, as Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder told journalists later that day.

“It was unsuccessful, no casualties,” Ryder said. “Some minor damage to infrastructure.”

Thursday’s attack marked the second such assault on an airbase in the Kurdistan Region in recent days. On Oct. 17, Harir Airbase was also hit, also without casualties.

Clear blame laid on Iran

In announcing the U.S. attacks on the IRGC sites, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin clearly and unequivocally stated that Iran was behind the militia attacks.

Austin explained that the two sites the U.S. had bombed were “used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” They were a weapons storage facility and an ammunition storage facility.

Austin stressed that the U.S. “does not seek conflict” and does not “desire to engage in further hostilities.” But, he continued, “These Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop.”

He then explained a key point, in the process, restoring an earlier U.S. understanding of terrorism: major terrorist attacks are generally state-sponsored, a form of proxy war. 

“Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces,” Austin stated.

That, indeed, is how U.S. authorities understood terrorism before Jan. 1993, when Bill Clinton became president. Through acts of terrorism, a weaker state could hope to attack the U.S. and get away with it, because its role might be obscured or at least not clear enough to justify a serious U.S. response.

Numerous terrorist attacks occurred during Clinton’s presidency, starting with the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing of New York’s World Trade Center, one month into his  first term in office. Perhaps, there were so many attacks, because Clinton grossly mishandled the issue?

Read More: Revisiting Ramzi Yousef’s terrorism: World Trade Center bombing and Philippines plane bombing plot

Clinton was the first U.S. president to assume office after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many U.S. politicians and their advisors concluded from the Soviet collapse that foreign policy was no longer important. 

U.S. security was guaranteed—because there was no longer any other party that could challenge it, or so it was thought. Thus, James Carville, a major Clinton campaign advisor, touted the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Clinton did not want to deal with the issue of state sponsorship in terrorist attacks. He turned terrorism from a national security issue, with which U.S. authorities dealt by focusing on determining which hostile state was most likely behind the attack into a law enforcement issue, with the focus on the arrest and conviction of individual perpetrators. 

Austin’s statement, thus, restores the pre-Clinton understanding of terrorism among Americans.

Strike on IRGC Sites in eastern Syria

The U.S. attacks on the two IRGC sites in Eastern Syria were “intended to send a strong signal to Iran to rein in the attacks” of its proxy forces in Syria and Iraq, The New York Times reported.

Whether they will achieve that goal remains to be seen. The Biden administration remains constrained, as the Times explained, because it seeks “to contain the war between Israel and Hamas, and prevent it from spilling over into a regional conflict with Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.”

But how much does Tehran really care about two storage facilities? The unstated implication has to be that the Biden administration is prepared to attack more important targets. The current approach leaves the initiative to Iran. Tehran can decide to escalate or de-escalate, according to what best suits its purposes at the moment.

Still, holding Iran responsible for the hostile actions of its proxies will be welcomed by those in the region, who are threatened and intimidated by them, as it does hold out prospect of limiting their actions. 

A particularly knowledgeable columnist for The Washington Post, Josh Rogin, recently related a highly relevant exchange with two individuals whom he described as “Syrian rebel commanders who partner with U.S. forces there in the fight against the Islamic State.”

“They told me that the IRGC’s notorious Quds Force has consolidated various militias under the new moniker”—the Islamic Resistance of Iraq —“to focus efforts and resources on one shared mission: targeting Americans,” Rogin wrote.

“There has been absolutely no response to these attacks, which has resulted in the fact that the Iranian backed militias are getting much braver,” one of the rebel commanders complained to Rogin.

Presumably, that commander welcomes Friday’s strikes, even as, most probably, he would like to see more.