What motivated the lethal rocket attack on Monday against a U.S. military and intelligence operations base in Erbil, Iraq?
Iran is testing whether or not the Biden administration will hold it responsible for its aggression. Early indications suggest that the Biden administration, at least from a U.S. interest point of view, has failed the test.
One American contractor was killed in the attack, and five others, including at least one U.S. service member, were wounded. But Iran isn’t trying too hard to hide its responsibility. After all, the attack in Iraqi Kurdistan was claimed by an organization called Saraya Awliya al Dam (or the Guardians of the Blood). A thinly veiled Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intermediary, the Guardians of the Blood exist to attack U.S. interests in a manner that shields Iran from being held directly accountable. To mitigate the risk of U.S. intelligence services identifying their masters, and thus the risk of retaliation for attacks falling on Tehran, it doesn’t make phone calls to Tehran. Instead, they receive their orders from in-person contact with IRGC handlers.
By suggesting that it will not conduct military retaliation for this attack, the Biden administration appears to have played straight into Iran’s hands.
In a statement on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated that the United States would gather evidence before blaming Iran. While the U.S. reserves the right to respond against Iran, Psaki declared that “obviously, diplomacy is a priority.”
The IRGC will certainly have an obvious takeaway from that reaction.
Namely, that the Biden administration will tolerate Iranian actions against U.S. interests that the Trump administration would not. This distinction bears note in that the previous administration responded to Iranian-orchestrated attacks such as this one with direct military retaliation. As a side note, Psaki’s “gather the facts” excuse for not holding Iran to account is the same that the White House has thus far applied toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the new translation for “we’re not going to respond in any significant way.”