Deadly Iranian-linked Drone Attack in Syria

An Iranian-linked drone attack in Syria killed an American contractor and wounded six other Americans on March 23. Later that day, the United States conducted airstrikes against facilities of the Iranian-backed militia responsible for the attack, reportedly killing eight fighters. This was only the fourth Biden administration response to any of the roughly seventy-eight attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since the start of 2021. Importantly, it was also the strongest and swiftest.

Nevertheless, the U.S. response was not sufficient to deter further Iranian attacks. The next day, March 24, Iranian proxies retaliated against U.S. forces near the al-Omar oil field in northern Syria, with no casualties immediately reported. This appears to be a test to see if the March 23 airstrikes represent a new, more muscular U.S. policy or a one-off event.

It will have to be the former to deter further Iranian-linked attacks and significantly degrade their ability to conduct further aggression. While U.S. strikes have been calibrated to minimize the risks of escalation, specifically targeting Iranian-aligned fighters or even their Iranian commanders, not merely their facilities, will be key to reaching this level of deterrence. The Biden administration urgently must adopt a much more robust policy of consistent and comprehensive military pressure that, similar to Israeli operations, inflicts direct costs on Iran and not just its proxies, while also working to improve regional air defenses.

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Ari Cicurel – Assistant Director of Foreign Policy