January 30, 2024 | New York Post

How to hold Iran accountable for killing US troops

January 30, 2024 | New York Post

How to hold Iran accountable for killing US troops

The death of three service members in the Jordanian desert Sunday night was inevitable. The Biden administration relied on fortune, not fortitude, and three families will bear the consequences of a complete failure to deter Iran and its proxies.

The US response has to ensure this does not happen again.

In the 100-plus days since Oct. 7, Iranian proxy forces have launched more than 165 attacks against US outposts in Iraq and Syria and more than 30 missile and drone attacks targeting US Navy and merchant shipping in the Red Sea.

Thanks to a combination of good missile defense and a lot of luck, no US service members had been killed.

Then came an incredible piece of bad luck: An Iranian drone flew into Tower 22 just as the troops there were recovering a US drone returning from its mission.

Missile defenses proved ineffective, and a US barracks was hit, resulting in nearly 40 casualties in total, dead and wounded.

This tragedy was no surprise to many in Congress.

Sen. Tom Cotton took to the floor of the Senate back in November and warned Iran and its proxies would continue attacks until America struck them hard, saying, “It is time today to make Iran once again fear the United States before more Americans die.”

Instead, the administration responded to Iran’s aggressive use of proxy forces with a strategy of “deterrence by denial.” In plain English, a solely defensive effort to protect American forces by preventing Iranian attacks from succeeding.

The counterpart to this is known as “deterrence by punishment” — imposing costs on the Iranians and their proxy groups for their malicious behavior.

The president authorized a handful of retaliations, but they were sporadic, one-off, limited strikes on proxy units that only started after 60-plus days of Iranian-inspired attacks. They were no substitute for the comprehensive weekslong strike campaign that the president’s critics were calling for.

Will the administration do better now?

The campaign we will see later this week should, at a minimum, include sustained strikes on every Iranian proxy target we can locate in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to include missile and drone launch equipment, ammunition dumps, logistics sites and radars.

It must also include sustained strikes on hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Finally, Washington should sink any IRGC warship supplying targeting information to the Houthis in Yemen.

Then comes the hard decision. Will the Biden administration attack Iran itself, hitting IRGC command-and-control facilities, logistics sites and missile and drone factories (the last one would have a bonus benefit for our friends in Ukraine)?

I suspect this will be a bridge too far for an administration that has long harbored a desire for rapprochement with Tehran.

Strikes inside Iran may also be off the table because the administration has left US forces in the region extremely vulnerable.

There are not nearly enough Patriot missile batteries to defend every US outpost in the Middle East simultaneously.

If the Iranians respond with ballistic missile attacks the death count might be much higher than three. At that point, the safest course of action would be to fold up shop and go home.

If the administration does not strike inside Iran, we will likely see a mix of sanctions and cyberattacks instead.

The effects of such cyber efforts will only be temporary, and the Iranians will easily recover, but the administration will argue that this is all Donald Trump did after Iran shot down a US Global Hawk drone in 2019.

Of course, an American drone does not have parents or spouses or children.

This crisis was completely predictable. The administration let Tehran make the rules.

To get back in control, the next US steps need to be persistent and painful for Iran, the IRGC and its proxies.

Adm. (ret.) Mark Montgomery is a senior fellow and senior director of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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