Sunday, May 26, 2024

Failed rocket attack targets US-led coalition base in Syria

HomeWARFailed rocket attack targets US-led coalition base in Syria

Shattering a fragile calm, Iranian-backed militant groups launched a brazen rocket offensive against a U.S.-led coalition base in war-torn Syria on Sunday, setting off urgent alarm bells across the combustible Middle East. Though the strike ultimately failed to inflict any casualties, it marked a shocking resurgence of hostilities by Tehran’s proxies targeting American forces – and vividly demonstrated how the region remains a hair-trigger for potential conflagration.

According to Iraqi authorities, the salvo consisted of around five missiles fired from their territory late Sunday, streaking across the border to bombard the coalition’s remote outpost in the desert of eastern Syria. While no group immediately claimed credit for the audacious cross-border attack, Iraqi officials swiftly blamed “outlaw elements” and vowed to hunt down the culprits responsible.

But American military insiders had no doubt about the likely masterminds: Iran’s network of Shia militia groups that have established a firm foothold in both Iraq and Syria. One U.S. defense official bluntly stated the rocket offensive represented the first strike on U.S. positions by Iranian proxies since February 4th, following months of relative calm.

The flare-up signals Tehran is likely seeking to resuscitate a cycle of militia harassment and violence against American personnel deployed in the region. During late 2022 and early 2023, a shadowy Iraqi militia coalition called the Islamic Resistance repeatedly pelted U.S. bases with drone and rocket barrages on a near-monthly basis – payback, they claimed, for Washington’s steadfast backing of Israel.

That campaign of attacks abruptly halted in late January after American retaliatory strikes killed a senior militia commander in Baghdad. But now, with the Middle East careening deeper into turmoil, all signs suggest Iran is preparing to unleash its Shia militant pawns once again to assert its agenda through bloodshed.

The tinder, of course, remains the raging Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip that has raged unabated for seven months – spawning a protracted, region-wide proxy war that has driven a deepening wedge between the United States and Israel on one side, and Iran on the other.

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The conflagration first erupted last October 7th when the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched a shocking, coordinated onslaught of suicide bombings and rocket barrages into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 civilians. The bloodbath also saw the militants abduct around 250 Israeli civilians as hostages, with over 100 still being held captive alongside the remains of 30 others, according to Jerusalem.

Since then, the Israeli Defense Forces have prosecuted a relentless air campaign in retaliation, bombarding Gaza’s cities and towns into rubble as they pursue the militants. More than 34,000 Palestinians have perished so far, two-thirds of them women and children, as nearly 80% of Gaza’s population has been displaced in the face of widespread destruction, according to statistics from Palestinian health authorities.

The fallout has triggered an ever-widening gyre of volatility and violence rippling outwards. Earlier this month, an unprecedented flare-up witnessed Israel and Iran trade direct missile strikes for the first time – Tehran’s admission of firing into the Negev in retaliation for Israeli Special Forces killing Iranian personnel inside Syria.

The specter of all-out war between the bitter regional archenemies has stoked deep unease globally. At the same time, alarm surged over the potential for devastating consequences should Iran opt to fully unleash its proxies – from Hezbollah militias along the Israeli-Lebanese border to Shia militant factions mobilized across Syria and Iraq – into an asymmetric fray against Israel.

Indeed, on Monday, the situation took another perilous turn when Hezbollah launched over three dozen rockets hurtling into northern Israel around the Galilee region – the group’s largest barrage since the 2006 war. The strikes drew immediate Israeli retaliation as tensions along the volatile frontier spiked anew.

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Though the exchange produced no casualties, the willingness of Hezbollah to openly join Hamas and Islamic Jihad in striking Israeli territory marked a chilling escalation. The Iranian proxy cited recent Israeli airstrikes in south Lebanon as a pretext, but made no secret of its “solidarity” with the Palestinian factions prosecuting rocket campaigns from Gaza.

Taken together, the rash of provocative militia actions over just the past 48 hours has analysts and policymakers scrambling to gauge Iran’s true motivations and endgame. With no clear path to diplomacy as Israel’s Gaza onslaught shows no sign of abating after over half a year of unrelenting urban bombardment, suspicions have mounted that Tehran could be using its local militant allies as anarmed battering ram of chaos to leverage pressure on the U.S. and Israel.

For Washington, the looming challenge of how to respond risks kicking open a Pandora’s box from which there may be no exit. Already, the Pentagon confirmed on Monday that U.S. air defenses had also shot down at least two suspected Iranian drones over the Al-Asad airbase in Iraq, underscoring the potential for a rapid cycle of escalation on multiple fronts.

And in Israel, domestic furor has reached a fever pitch over reports that the Biden administration could this week move to sanction an Israeli infantry battalion deployed in the occupied West Bank over human rights violations – marking the first time the U.S. has ever penalized an active Israeli military unit.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant fiercely defended the so-called Netzah Yehuda battalion in a personal visit on Monday, vowing their operations have the full backing of the state as he brazenly dismissed concerns about military ethics: “No one in the world will teach us what are morality and what are norms.”

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The saber-rattling set the stage for a scorching rebuke from U.S. officials, who condemned the “inflammatory” rhetoric even as they refused to identify the sanctioned infantry unit. The mess descended further into chaos when the commander of Israeli military intelligence, Aharon Haliva, was also forced to resign on Monday after he was excoriated for “failures” ahead of the October 7th Palestinian attacks, exposing glaring security lapses at the highest echelons.

Yet amidst the spiraling turmoil, it was perhaps the most unassuming venue that underlined the broader tragedy unfolding daily for Palestinian families in Gaza. On Sunday, according to medical officials, an infant was born an orphan after an Israeli airstrike killed her parents and three siblings as they slept in their home across the battered territory.

Meanwhile, increasing concerns have arisen about the potential for the seething conflict to detonate a mass uprising among Palestinian refugee populations in neighboring Lebanon, Syria and Jordan – home to millions descended from those displaced by previous Arab-Israeli wars.

In a damning indictment, a French-led independent review vigorously disputed charges by Israel that the U.N. agency providing aid to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, had staffers involved in last October’s Gaza attacks. The panel slammed such claims as baseless, noting that in over a decade of providing employee vetting lists to the Israelis, not a single concern had ever actually been raised until after the hostilities broke out.

As the diplomatic fallout widens and the Pentagon weighs retaliatory options over the Syria strike, one factor remains constant: the ever-present threat that the Gaza war could rapidly metastasize into a regional conflagration engulfing the Middle East in widespread chaos and bloodshed. For U.S. policymakers and military strategists, the failed rocket barrage in Syria has delivered a harsh wake-up call that the next assault is likely only a matter of when – not if.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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