November 13, 2023 | Al-Ain

Prevent the Gaza Conflict From Turning Into a Regional Conflagration  

November 13, 2023 | Al-Ain

Prevent the Gaza Conflict From Turning Into a Regional Conflagration  

*This article was originally published in Arabic

President Joe Biden and his administration must not remember the past, because they’re repeating it. The same Iranian-backed terror group that murdered 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut 40 years ago, along with other allied Iranian-backed terror groups, now threatens U.S. forces in the Middle East and its ally, Israel. All of this is primarily due to the Biden administration’s policies in the region and the erosion of American deterrence. 

The Pentagon has acknowledged that Iran-backed groups have launched numerous attacks on U.S. positions, injuring dozens of American troops over the past few weeks — with minimal responses from Washington. As Iran-backed terror groups no doubt plot additional attacks against U.S. troops and assault Israel, Biden must restore the Middle East’s belief in America’s commitment to deterrence lest Tehran launch a catastrophic assault or open additional fronts against Jerusalem.  

Despite multiple reports exposing Tehran’s hand in authorizing the 10/7 attack against Israel, U.S. officials – including the president – have been reluctant to hold Iran directly responsible, even though it funds, arms, and trains Hamas. Instead, officials have limited themselves to calling Iran “complicit.” The predictable result: Iran-backed groups have stepped up attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria and even launched attacks against Israel from the West Bank, Lebanon, and Yemen.  

The United States moved two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Middle East waters patrolled by U.S. Central Command and deployed an Ohio-class attack submarine, among additional military assets in the region. However, CNN reported that the United States had intelligence Iran was planning to ramp up assaults, with one U.S. official warning there are “red lights flashing everywhere.”  

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he is “concerned about potential escalation.” He wasn’t talking about escalation by our enemies. He was declaring his concern that the U.S. might escalate matters too far. 

If Iran appears undeterred, it’s because it is, and has been for a long time.  

Under questioning by Congress, Secretary Austin testified last March that since the start of Biden’s term in office, Tehran’s proxies had attacked U.S. bases and assets in the Middle East on 83 separate occasions – and Washington had counter-attacked only four times. 

Is it any wonder Tehran doubts Biden’s commitment to deterrence? 

If Biden does not send a clear message that he will hold the Islamic Republic accountable for continued assaults by its proxies, Israel’s war could grow into a regional conflagration.  

What’s at stake?  

Hezbollah could launch as many as 150,000 rockets and precision-guided missiles against Israel, potentially overriding the capabilities of Israeli air defense systems and causing damage and civilian fatalities that far surpass the magnitude – and, likely, the horror – of the 10/7 attack.  

Tehran’s proxies could escalate strikes on U.S. troops. Those proxies could also lash out at targets in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, and Yemen. And Iran could finally seize the opportunity to sprint for nuclear weapons. 

America must deter further Iranian provocations now to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. Fortunately, there are several steps Biden can take immediately: 

Restore UN sanctions. The Biden administration recently failed to prevent the expiration of UN sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone programs. At the UN Security Council, Biden should lead an effort with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to initiate the snapback of UN sanctions, which would restore these key embargoes and all prior UN restrictions on Iran’s nuclear and military programs. 

Enforce oil sanctions. Washington should put key Chinese government and related entities and financial institutions on notice that it will sanction oil imports from Iran to curtail nearly $100 billion in revenue Tehran has generated since Biden took office, much of it as a result of relaxed U.S. oil sanctions.  

Re-freeze Iranian funds. Over the past several months, as part of a failed “de-escalation” effort with Tehran, the Biden administration has authorized the release of $16 billion in Iranian oil revenues held abroad. Much of these funds remain in accounts in Qatar and Iraq. The Treasury Department should promptly send notifications to relevant banks that it will penalize transfers to Iran or withdrawals from those accounts. 

Inflict major damage on Iranian proxies. America must start to inflict major military damage on any Iranian proxy that attacks U.S. bases, troops, or assets in the region. To prevent Iran from escalating further, the U.S. must abandon a mainly defensive posture against Iran-backed attacks.  

Reiterate a credible threat to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. Biden has previously pledged to intervene militarily should Iran break out of its nonproliferation commitments. The president should reiterate this threat publicly, so the regime does not contemplate a sprint to the bomb.   

All these actions must be explained in context, simply and directly. The president and his team must place direct responsibility on Iran for the attacks on Israel and assaults on America by its proxies. Senator Lindsay Graham, for example, while on a trip to Israel recently, starkly warned the Iranian regime: “We’re here today to tell Iran: ‘We’re watching you. If this war grows, it’s coming to your backyard.’” Biden should use similarly simple and direct language to make the regime think twice about launching additional attacks.  

The war in the Middle East needn’t escalate, but avoiding a larger conflagration initiated by Tehran will require leadership from the world’s superpower to stop the Iranian regime in its tracks. Biden must not delay further in restoring American deterrence against Iran’s malevolent plans.  

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow her on X @StrickerNonproFDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.  


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power Syria U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy