US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that Iran-backed militant groups may escalate their activities against American forces in the Middle East.
Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both propped up by the regime in Iran have already launched limited attacks against Israel.
“There’s a likelihood of escalation by Iranian proxies against our forces,” Blinken cautioned in an NBC interview. “We’re taking steps to make sure that we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to.”
Blinken’s alert came as the Pentagon announced measures to tackle growing threats from Iran proxies in the region, including the deployment of a new warship and anti-missiles systems.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday that he had made these decisions after detailed discussions with President Joe Biden, and aiming to bolster regional deterrence, enhance US force protections, and contribute to the defense of Israel.
Last week a squadron of B1b Lancer strategic bombers were moved from their Texas base to the Fairford base in Britain. The bombers can carry 50 tons of bombs each and have enough range from Britain to Lebanon/Iran and back.
In the week gone by, Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both supported by the regime in Iran, have entered the war theater, albeit on a limited scale and with no official declaration of war.
The heightened tension and the attacks on US forces by emboldened Iran-backed militants caused the US embassy in Baghdad to order the evacuation of non-essential personnel after recent attacks by Iran’s proxy forces across the Middle East, reports Fox News.
On Sunday, one Israeli soldier was killed in a local IDF raid into Gaza. Several others were injured. The operation was reportedly conducted to locate missing individuals and dismantle Hamas infrastructure but met ‘unexpected resistance.’
Only a day prior, Iran’s intelligence chief had issued a warning, suggesting potential reprisals against the US and its allies and unconfirmed reports emerged that IRGC Quds Force Commander Ismail Qaani traveled to Syria to “supervise” the Iran-backed armed groups along the Syrian border with Israel.
Israel has amassed its forces on the border with Gaza but has so far refrained from a full-on ground invasion, apparently heeding the Biden administration’s advice.
Critics of President Biden say he is to blame (partly at least) for the critical situation in the Middle East, pointing, especially, to his lenient approach towards the regime in Iran.
John Ratcliffe, former Director of National Intelligence, accused the Biden administration of ignoring the ‘intelligence’.
“Throughout 2020, Iranian military and political leaders were telling us as we listened to their conversations, we’re broke, we can’t afford to fund Hamas, we can’t afford to fund Hezbollah,” Ratcliff said in an interview with Fox News, “essentially saying that the maximum pressure campaign of the Trump administration was working, and Iran was less dangerous than they had been at any point in time.”
Ratcliffe then suggested that all the intelligence had been shared with the Biden administration ‘as it came into office.
Amid the escalation, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts are gaining momentum. President Biden held critical discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, underlining the need for a sustained flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas, including US citizens, before a land invasion.
However, aid agencies have expressed concerns about the inadequacy of the humanitarian aid reaching Gaza, with the limited number of trucks permitted into the region falling far short of the pressing need for essential supplies, including food, fuel, and medical resources.
Since October 7, when Hamas special forces attacked Israel, at least 1400 Israelis and 4500 Palestinians have been killed, many more injured and displaced.