Biden is ready for the hard power option to deal with Iran
It is clear that the US administration’s patience with Iran and its transgressions has quickly run out. This was clearly illustrated by a strike that US forces launched on a military base belonging to militias affiliated with Iran at dawn, on February 16.
The direct strike, undertaken solely by the United States without the assistance of its Israeli ally, sent a clear message to Iran, which has failed to seize the opportunities presented to it by the administration of US President Joe Biden.
Iran mistakenly believed that the loss of former US President Donald Trump in US elections would be an opportunity for it to escalate and test the patience of the new leadership in Washington, which preferred early on to use its soft power before resorting to military and economic weapons.
The strike was not an easy choice for Biden, who had strongly criticised his predecessor’s violent approach and gone along with the American left’s view that Trump had over-relied on the use of force against Iran.
Many Democratic members of the US Congress expressed their displeasure that the administration had not sought their approval or even consulted them before the strike, despite the fact that military action is part of the new US president’s powers.
The goal of the military operation did not rise either to the level desired by the Republicans or the hawks in the US administration after the aggressive actions of Iran and its proxy militias, which went so far as to launch rockets at Erbil airport where US forces are stationed and targeting the US embassy.
In an attempt by the Biden administration to achieve a kind of balance between the right and left of the US political establishment, the strike was limited in type and intensity. The choice was confirmed by a Pentagon statement that said the operation sought one of the most limited targets on the list of military options.
The operation not only sends a message to Iran and its proxies in the region, but to all of Washington’s enemies who might have seen in Biden a weak president who would allow them to extend or ratchet up their policies during the next four years. Tehran in particular, however, should read the Pentagon statement carefully and attentively.
The main point is that the list of targets is ready, and the US administration is ready to use force when necessary.
Most importantly, Iran has been given clear notice that the next target will be less limited and the next blow more painful if it continues to challenge the United States and its interests directly or through its militias and proxies in the Middle East.
The Iranian policy, which today has entered the stage of escalation and gone beyond striking at Washington’s allies to targeting US citizens and diplomats, has provided Biden with the needed green light to exchange his soft power for hard military action just a few months after assuming the reins of power.
The American president will not need to respond to critics from within his own party except to point out that Iran’s missiles were a brutish response to the greatest amount of flexibility Washington has displayed in dealing with Tehran.
Opinions differ on whether Biden and his administration were originally convinced of the usefulness of the policy of offering opportunities to effect tangible change in Tehran’s behaviour, but it is clear that the negative consequences of this policy emerged quickly and forced an immediate shift in the US’s approach.
At the same time, observers agree that the US strike may not be enough to change Iran’s approach, which is based on aggression and support for terrorism.
Ultimately, the Biden administration may be forced to escalate its moves to levels that go beyond those reached by Trump and include targets deep inside Iran if Tehran’s aggression against American citizens continues.
This change in Washington’s policy places the ball undoubtedly in the court of the Iranian leadership, which may have realised today that the rules of the game have not changed with the transition of power in Washington.
Dialogue over the lifting of sanctions and seeking a new agreement is still dependent on a tangible change in Iran’s behaviour towards its neighbours and the US’s presence in the region.
In the event that the Iranian regime still has doubts about Biden’s seriousness, the next target is already determined, and US military equipment is fully prepared for the task.