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National review

Biden shoots a warning shot at Iran

After just a month in power, President Biden has used deadly military force in Iraq in response to Iran-sponsored attacks on Americans. The strike, allegedly carried out by F-15 jets, apparently attacked buildings by Iraqi Shiite militia groups along the Iraqi-Syrian border. It is worth pausing to realize that these Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite groups, and not the Iraqi government, control this part of the border. In other words, Iran and its proxy control a route from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon, where Iran’s largest proxy, Hezbollah, is located. The borders have been erased. The Biden strike is a message to Iran, a warning shot of ongoing attacks by the militias that Tehran supports. According to press reports, Biden was faced with a number of options and opted for one of the softest – a limited strike inside Syria instead of Iraq. There is a logic to this choice. First, U.S. attacks in Iraq would likely make the life of Prime Minister Kadhimi, whom we generally support, more difficult, and prompt forces hostile to a U.S. presence – not least the Iranian allied militia – to evict all U.S. forces to promote. Second, should further Iran-sponsored attacks require Biden to meet Iran-backed forces again, this limited strike allows him to say that he has tried patience and restraint and they have failed. But the strike in Syria and at Iranian officials can also send messages that Biden did not intend: that the United States will never meet Tehran’s proxies in Iraq, and that it will never meet Iran. If the Iranian regime concludes, the militias will strike again and again. They won’t be deterred as they consider the attacks to be almost free. The law of averages suggests that sooner or later these continued attacks will kill Americans. Then the president will face the need to punish Iran and really create deterrence. Just attacking its proxies will be insufficient. One of the key functions of the Shiite militias in Iraq is to enable Iran to attack US forces while maintaining Iran’s security by absorbing any punishment. If there are a number of attacks that do harm to Americans and eventually kill one or more, the limited United States response we saw last week won’t be enough. That doesn’t mean World War III or the American bombers over Tehran, but it does mean Biden needs to think about striking Iranian assets rather than expendable proxy groups. There has been no progress in the nuclear negotiations over the past week. On the contrary, Iran has not agreed to participate in the EU-sponsored talks that the United States has agreed to participate in. He restricted the access of the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iran and threatened to enrich uranium to 60 percent. Nuclear energy requires an enrichment of no more than 5 percent. The only use for uranium enriched to 60 percent is to make a nuclear weapon. The least that can be said about President Biden’s second month in power is that we see dreams of a swift return to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, and a swift resolution of the US-Iranian confrontations that are looming our dissolution eyes dissolve. The president’s refusal to date to lift sanctions and his willingness to use force against Iranian proxies suggest a more realistic assessment of Iran than many feared. No doubt there will be much deep discussion, even debate, within the administration about what the next step should be. The readiness of the government to return to the JCPOA if Iran complies with it again has not moved the Islamic Republic an inch. Similarly, the government’s reversal of the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group in Yemen and their decision to stop selling “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen were negated by the Houthis who promoted them Flexibility added additional terrorist attacks since the policy change. The government, on the other hand, faces an even bigger challenge than what to do about attacks on Americans in Iraq. President Biden has already decided that they will be hit with force, and it is reasonable to assume that if the attacks continue and escalate, the counterattacks will continue. But what about the expulsion of nuclear inspectors by Iran, which violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the “additional protocol” to the JCPOA (which allowed for rapid inspections)? What about a 60 percent enrichment if it actually does? How far will the government be willing to let Iran go on the path to building a nuclear weapon? That’s a hypothetical question today, but if Iran moves on, US officials will soon be staying up at night. By my count, Biden is the fifth American president in a row to say Iran should never build a nuclear weapon. If Iran doesn’t change course, it could be the first to prove it.

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