TEL AVIV: The careful calculus of force in the Middle East was on display Friday as the Biden administration made its first use of the American military, this one an airstrike against Iranian proxies.
The F-15 airstrike, reported to have killed 17 people, drew an initial muted response from Iranian officials. However, a ship owned by an Israeli company was damaged later in the day while sailing in the Gulf of Oman. The MV Helios Ray sails under the Bahamas flag and belongs to the Israeli company Helios Ray Ltd, owned by Rami Unger, one of the largest car importers in Israel.
First indications point to sea mines or missiles. The ship was hit during a cruise out of Oman Bay. There were no casualties, but the ship that had made its way to Singapore from the city of Damam in Saudi Arabia was damaged and had to return to Saudi Arabia.
Unger is one of the largest car importers in Israel and Israeli sources said today that first indications point to an Iranian-initiated attack performed by one of its proxies.
The U.S Fifth Fleet is helping in the initial investigation.
The initial air attack was very limited and occurred in response to Iranian rocket attacks against US targets in Iraq. The US airstrikes killed at least 17, local sources and one medical source said Friday.
The F-15s attacked targets in eastern Syria on the Syrian-Iraqi border early Friday morning, according to Syrian state television. The strikes appeared to be limited in scope, potentially lowering the risk of escalation.
Moredchai Keidar an expert on Iran, told BD that the Iranians will retaliate “probably in Iraq, but they will let the Americans know a strike is planned. They don’t want to kill Americans because they know this will take the confrontation to another, different stage.”
US President Joe Biden on Thursday night and Friday morning approved the attack in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia.
The strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) was warned minutes before the attack began, a senior reserve officer in the IAF told BD. While the Americans know exactly where Israeli aircraft are flying over Syria, they decided to give the warning to avoid any mishap.
Iran’s operations in Syria are orchestrated by the Quds Force. Direct involvement by Iranian forces consist of two separate contingents: the first one consists of exclusively Iranian forces, based on the ground forces of the IRGC. The second is a smaller group of units from the regular Iranian army, Artesh, which began arriving in Syria in early 2016.
Iranian fighting forces in Syria grew to at one point as many as 2,500 men. But fear of criticism at home over losses caused by an unpopular distant war, drove Iran to gradually decrease the number of fighters in Syria, to less than a thousand today. These numbers mask the crucial role of Iranians as battlefield commanders of Syrian and Shiite militias,
Meanwhile, Biden came under attack by the left wing of his party for the use of force.
“This makes President Biden the seventh consecutive US president to order strikes in the Middle East. There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate. The President should not be taking these actions without seeking explicit authorization instead of relying on broad, outdated. I spoke against endless war with Trump, and I will speak out against it when we have a Democratic President.” (Source: Breaking Defence)
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