Over the past few years, the United States has rarely retaliated for the many attacks carried out by Iran from its bases in Syria. To be sure, the 2019 killings of Qasem Solemeini, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were widely seen as retaliatory; but they are largely the only examples.

That is why last week’s substantial U.S. military strike against Iranian bases in Syria – which included helicopter gunships, warplanes and artillery – in response to the most recent Iranian attacks would seem to indicate that something new is in the works.


In fact, we think it is not a coincidence that the U.S. attack comes amid last-minute squabbling between Iran and the United States over a renewal of the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s public admonition that a credible U.S. military threat is necessary for any new nuclear deal to work, if at all.

The prime minister’s comments came in a press briefing after Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan last week, where he reportedly made a similar point. Although the military strike was in response to an Iranian attack, it ineluctably also signaled that the change in U.S. policy extends beyond simple tit-for-tat retaliation.

The unspoken element in the mix, of course, was the implicit approval of Israel’s regular airstrikes against Iranian bases, which have often gone beyond simply responding to particular Iranian attacks. Israel was able to operate because, for its own reasons, Russia looked away and never turned its anti-aircraft guns in Syria on Israeli planes. However, the recent souring of relations between Israel and Russia over the Russian invasion of Ukraine could make a direct American involvement key to continued Israeli operations in Syria.

While we continue to believe that a new nuclear deal with Iran would be folly for our side, a U.S. military option may substantially lessen the risk. We hope that if President Biden is determined to go through with a new deal, that he also makes sure that Iran understands that the United States is deadly serious that Iran will not get the bomb.


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