On Sunday, Iran launched a long-range missile strike on ISIS forces in Al Mayadin, now believed to be the Islamist group’s new capital. Iran claimed the attack was in retaliation for the ISIS terrorist attacks in Tehran earlier this month, attacks that it also indirectly blames on the U.S.
The missiles used were geo-located mid-range ballistic missiles, launched by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces from sites in the western Iranian provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan, and covered distances of several hundred kilometers to reach their targets.
The method used here to exact revenge is both interesting and ominous for U.S. forces in Syria, especially as Iran has unfinished business with the U.S. after its airforce annihilated an Iranian militia force that entered a unilaterally-declared exclusion zone around the Southern Syrian village of Al-Tanf located on the strategic Damascus to Baghdad highway.
As reported in Foreign Policy:
U.S. officials said that the force of about 60 fighters armed with tanks and anti-aircraft weapons entered an exclusion zone around the base at Al Tanf, where American Special Operations Forces train Syrian rebels. Before unleashing their bombs, American military officials first contacted their Russian counterparts who are allied with the Iranian-backed force. But when the new column refused to leave, the Americans struck. It is unclear how many casualties resulted.”
And the Daily Telegraph:
American jets were understood to have struck a convoy of 27 tanks as they moved to within 15 miles of a coalition garrison in al-Tanf, a border crossing point to Iraq in southern Syria, marking the most direct clash between coalition forces and fighters with Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Iran believes the U.S. is completely in the wrong, both in the action itself and in its uninvited intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. The U.S. base at Al-Tanf is being used to create a fake “astroturf” army in the South of the country near the Jordanian border in order to seize land as ISIS collapse, and thus block the reestablishment of the “Shiite corridor,” stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, a policy that seems to have mainly the interests of Israel at heart, rather than those of America.
In contrast to the U.S. squatting in the Southern Syrian desert, Iranian forces are in Syria at the behest and invitation of what is still the legitimate Syrian government. The deaths of several dozen Iranian militia at the hands of U.S. forces under these circumstances means that the Iranians have quite a score to settle. Added to this is the Iranian belief that the ISIS terrorist attacks in Tehran earlier this month were carried out with at least the connivance of America and Saudi Arabia.
But how will the Iranians strike back? The missile strike on Al-Mayadin is a possible indication. Based on the long history of America’s involvement in the Middle East, the Iranians know that the best way to cause trouble for U.S. governments intervening in the Middle East is to increase the U.S. body count. For example, in 1983 Hezbollah’s successful bombing of the U.S. Marine base in Beirut led to the US immediately quitting Lebanon.
American intervention in Syria is mainly in the form of air power and expert support for groups, like the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in the North and various astroturf terrorist groups elsewhere in the country.
This means there are few obvious targets like there was in Beirut in 1983 for the Iranians and their allies to strike. But one possible target is the U.S. base at Al-Tanf, where an absence of indigenous organic opposition to the Assad government has forced the U.S. and its allies to “over-intervene” and build up a centrally-based force of around 150 U.S. personnel, as well as other allies. The base is still justified to the public on the basis that it is there to “fight ISIS,” although ISIS have now retreated well beyond the area covered by the base.
A successful strike here with significant U.S. casualties would raise a lot of questions back home about the point or pointlessness of U.S. intervention in Syria.
A missile strike, like the one tried out on Al Mayadin, could be the ideal means for the Iranians to carry out such an attack. As the U.S. is already bombing Iranian and Syrian forces in this war, they have little to lose and indeed much to gain from adding to the costs of U.S. intervention.