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Tehran has vowed to respond to any threat from the United States as anticipation grows over Washington’s next move after the killing of three American servicemen by Iranian-linked militants.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he had decided how the U.S. would retaliate to the strike on the Tower 22 military base in northeast Jordan on Sunday which also left dozens injured. The president did not elaborate further.
“We hear threats coming from American officials, we tell them that they have already tested us and we now know one another,” said Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ chief Hossein Salami on Wednesday, according to semi-official Tasnim news agency cited by Reuters, “no threat will be left unanswered.”
On Tuesday, Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York told Iranian journalists that Tehran “would decisively respond to any attack on the country, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” The Associated Press reported, citing the Iranian state-run IRNA news agency.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.
As Washington tries to avoid risking a wider regional war, John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, told reporters that there may be “multiple actions” from the U.S. rather than a single one.
The U.S. response should be guided by understanding the difference between an attack on Iran itself with disrupting its allied groups that are pushing Tehran’s “hegemonic vision” for the region, said former Israeli intelligence official Avi Melamed.
“It must also be more than a response but a projection of a very real threat to Iran should its direct and indirect provocations and attacks against U.S. forces continue,” he told Newsweek.
An attack on Iran itself of a flagged asset, such as a declared military base or naval asset, “will be seen as the U.S. raising the stakes and inviting a counterattack by Iran of the same nature,” he said.
A U.S. attack on Iranian assets in Syria, whose leader, Bashar al-Assad, has enjoyed the backing of Tehran could be a possibility and “would likely indicate to Iran that the U.S. will not tolerate further provocations.”
“Biden’s administration faces two tests, one on the domestic and the other on the international front to show a swift and strong response to Tehran,” Melamed added.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraq-based militant group believed to have ties with Iran, is one of several factions American officials believe may be responsible. He announced on Tuesday it was pausing operations to “prevent embarrassment” to the Iraqi government.
There are concerns that American strikes could further stoke tensions in the region inflamed by Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea.
“I’d expect a calibrated escalation that seeks to inflict significant costs on Iran without directly attacking high-value military targets inside of Iran,” Michael Butler, associate professor of political science at Clark University, told Newsweek. “I suspect drone producers and supply lines may be in the crosshairs.”
He said the likely next step will involve targeting Iranian-backed militias in either Iraq or Syria, or both.
“It is hard to envision the US continuing to adhere to a status quo that the Biden Administration itself has admitted is not working.”
Update 1/31/24, 7:39 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from Avi Melamed and Michael Butler.
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