The US and Iran, over the years, have established a relationship that has had troubles. Although Iran and the United States had been close allies in the 1950s and 1960s, their alliance had grown significantly stronger by the 1970s. It so happened to fall amid the increasing dictatorship of the Shah and the massive inflow of funds into Iranian reserves that followed the 1973 Arab oil ban, which Iran both violated and greatly benefited financially from.
Fast forwarding to recent years: when President Joe Biden took office, he pledged to bring the United States back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which is the official name for the Iran nuclear deal. However, Biden’s administration has found it difficult to accomplish this, partly due to the intricate politics surrounding the agreement in Washington and Tehran and partly because of the tense relations between the two nations, which sharply deteriorated under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
The recent war between Israel and Hamas can get much worse and is widely spreading among countries to strike each other. Unlike any other Arab-Israeli crisis since 1973, this one has the potential to grow more intense and involve players from throughout the region and beyond. The worst-case scenario is that the ongoing conflict escalates and involves Iran, the United States, and the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon.
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Why has the US struck at Iran’s assets?
The military said on Thursday night that American aircraft had struck targets in eastern Syria that were linked to militant groups with Iranian support. These groups are thought to be behind over a dozen rocket and drone attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria, resulting in the injuries of 21 service members. 16 attacks on US assets in West Asia in a week.
The retaliatory actions were taken in response to Hamas’ terror attack on Israel on October 7, which raised tensions in the Middle East and raised American concerns about the conflict’s potential to spread to the rest of the region.
According to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statements
‘Today, at President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces conducted self-defense strikes on two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups. Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We will not let them. If attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people.’
The official emphasized that the US airstrikes were about defending US troops and had nothing to do with the Israel-Hamas conflict. The United States of America has sent two aircraft carriers, extra fighter squadrons, and air defense systems to the Middle East in an attempt to prevent Iran, or Hezbollah, the militant organization backed by Iran that is active in southern Lebanon, from intervening and attacking Israel more broadly. The American military is stationed at a few weapons-equipped bases in Iraq and Syria to help stop the rocket and drone attacks that Iranian-sponsored militants have historically carried out.
Iran’s response to Israel and the US at the UN General Assembly
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the foreign minister of Iran, says that if Israel keeps up its war against Hamas, Iranian-allied groups are ready to launch an attack. Iran is a major sponsor of militant organizations in the area. In Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, as well as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, it has trained and armed proxy militia groups over the years. Iran’s alert coincides with Israel’s escalation of airstrikes on Gaza, which has left the Palestinian enclave without fuel, food, water, or electricity.
According to health officials in the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Hamas, its military operations have resulted in the deaths of over 7,000 Palestinians and the eviction of over a million others. While acknowledging civilian casualties, Israel maintains that its goal is to drive out Hamas fighters from the region.
Iran’s foreign minister escalated a back-and-forth in a speech that has fueled fears that the Israeli conflict with Hamas will turn into a larger regional war by threatening to open new fronts against the US if it continues to completely support Israel.
Iran’s militant groups that are strengthening
The 1980s saw the rise of Hezbollah, which means “Party of God” in Arabic, from the ashes of Lebanon’s protracted civil war to become one of the most potent forces in the area. Three years after its invasion of neighboring Lebanon in 1982, Israel withdrew its forces, leaving its army only on a narrow strip of territory. However, the stress of ongoing hostilities with Hezbollah forced a pullout in 2000. After a 33-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, there have been nearly daily gunfire exchanges since October 7. Another political party trying to gain traction among other Lebanese communities is Hezbollah.
The Alawite sect, which is a breakup of Sharia and comprises the ruling Assad family, has long strengthened its position at home by allying with Iran. After President Bashar al-Assad faced an antigovernment uprising and ultimately a civil war with extremist Sunni Muslim forces in 2011, that alliance proved especially beneficial. Russia provided air power, while Iran supplied militia troops (of which Israel claimed it had deployed up to 80,000 men) to support Syrian ground forces. Hezbollah sent fighters from Lebanon as well. Iran’s proxy group in Syria is the Liwa Fatemiyoun.
An unexpected outcome of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was Iran’s ability to establish devoted militant groups, expand its political influence, and reap economic gains within its earlier adversary. The two largest Shiite-majority countries in the Middle East are Iraq and Iran. These countries emerged from the war with significant regional influence, which alarmed their long-standing rivals, the Sunni Muslims, who control most Arab nations. The Badr Organization of Iraq is the proxy group for Iran.
The monarchs in charge of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, two countries in the Persian Gulf, have charged that Iran is attempting to plant conflict by promoting revolts among the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern coast and the Shiite majority in Bahrain, a small island nation. But Iran was successful in Yemen, where the violent Houthi Shiite movement, backed by Tehran, took control of the nation in a long-standing conflict that pitted Iran against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. After 2014, the movement gained momentum as an armed and political group led by the Houthi tribe, who were once the northern Yemeni rulers and practiced Zaidi Shiism, a branch of Shia Islam. The movement took inspiration from Hezbollah.
THE GAZA STRIP
Iran and its designated enemy, Israel, have been fighting an extensive shadow war. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and other high-ranking Iranian officials have all hailed Hamas. Iran has also threatened to expand its ongoing cat-and-mouse attacks into a full-scale conflict unless Israel stops its retaliatory attacks on Gaza.
USA with maximum troops in West Asia
The US has deployed an additional 900 troops to the Middle East. It has more than 30,000 troops in West Asia, with an additional 900 troops now. The highest number of US troops is found in Qatar, at 8,000. Iraq has 2,500 US troops, while Syria has 900 troops. Another ally is Jordan, which has 2,833 US troops. Saudi Arabia and the UAE both have 2,733 and 2,000 troops, making the regions have the highest number of American soldiers. These numbers also include Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain, and Kuwait, covering West Asia overall.