Biden officials and U.S. military leaders are deeply concerned about the escalation of hostilities with Iran, and view the new year as a possibility, according to two security officials and two administrative officials familiar with the matter.
Increasing tensions with Iran have created a debate within the administration over how to respond to the offensive and offensive actions of Iran and its proxies in the region, current and former US officials have said.
Tensions escalated following an attack on a U.S. military base known as At Tanf Garrison in southern Syria in October. 20, when five so-called suicide drones loaded with explosives and shrapnel were introduced at the base. No U.S. troops were killed in the attack, but several buildings were seriously damaged.
Three U.S. military officials and two senior officials have blamed Iran for the attack and launched an all-out attack on US troops. In an interview with Time magazine, the U.S. commander-in-chief Central Command, Marine General Frank McKenzie, did not blame Iran for the attack. He said anyone who did "apparently was trying to kill the American people."
Iran launched the offensive in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed and injured several Iranian citizens, U.S. officials said. The Israeli strike aimed at sending more anti-aircraft missiles aimed at Iranian-backed groups operating in Syria.
The U.S. military had warned that drones were coming in, and they were able to evacuate more than 200 U.S. troops from the base to avoid any casualties, according to five officials.
A few hours after the attack, McKenzie told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about ways to retaliate against Iran. The options were kinetic, five officials said, including airstrikes aimed at Iran that could lead to the death of Iranian civilians. But senior Biden administration officials are concerned that the killing of Iranian people will escalate the situation and call for more options.
CENTCOM came back with a second round of options including airstrikes and cyber attacks, Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, who told the White House. In the end, the interagency team decided to respond with diplomacy, sending a message to Iran rather than bringing in airstrikes or cyberattack, according to one security official and one of the management officials who knew the response.
"The interagency has reviewed some of the options available to send Iran to clarify to the Iranian people how serious we can take the deadly strikes ahead," the administration official said.
In addition to the US mission, the At Tanf base was once again threatened this week, with two drones breaking into a nearby military base. A British fighter jet fired from an airplane that fired one drone, while the other flew. Defense officials are not sure if it was a failed attack or whether the drones were testing US defense. In any case, the incident has raised concerns that threats to the American people will intensify in the coming weeks, said two U.S. military officials.
Attacks on At Tanf and other incidents - including a street attack on a commercial oil tank, MT Mercer Street, in August from Oman, the US and Britain blamed Iran - sparked a debate inside and outside the administration about how to do so. block Iran without escalating a perpetual war, some top military officials choose a strong line, according to one U.S. official and one former diplomat with experience in negotiations.
Asked to comment, the White House forwarded a report to NBC News at a conference last week, in which a senior official said that months after the Iranian invasion of Americans in Iraq under Trump, Biden officials "used a combination of prevention, including two rounds of air raids. and more talk to prevent and reduce some of these conflicts. "
"So, since July, we have had five months of calm - so the longest time we have had in Iraq, I think, is actually three years. And we expect that to continue, ”said the official. "But we are very much looking forward, as we look forward to the first half of next year, there is the celebration of the Solomon strike, there is a process of formation of the Iraqi government and a few other historic figures, that some of these attacks could start again. But we will be better prepared for that and be prepared. ”