US retaliation in Iran and Syria: How does America strike back and avoid a wider war?

US President Joe Biden greets armed forces service members Credit: AP

By ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers and Washington News Editor Jonathan Wald

The US air strikes at seven locations in Syria and Iraq against Iranian forces or forces backed by Iran are significant and marks an escalation in the region’s violence.

Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, there have been explosions in Gaza, Israel, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

Houthi fighters have repeatedly targeted shipping in the Red Sea, profoundly affecting global trade. Iran has been aggressively harassing ships in the Gulf.

America’s retaliation in the Syrian and Iraqi deserts for the drone attack in Jordan last Sunday, which killed three US soldiers Iranian forces, is the most firepower the US has unleashed since the Israel-Hamas war started.

The White House has attempted to carefully calibrate its military action so as to send an unambiguous message to Iran, without risking a spiral of retaliatory violence. B1B long-range bombers were used to launch strikes on 85 targets.

More US missiles also struck Houthi drone launch sites from US battleships and fighter aircraft in the region.

It caps a week in which a Houthi cruise missile came within a mile of a US warship.

President Biden and his officials have been emphatic that they do not seek a direct conflict with Iran, but the risk of one remains.

President Biden watches as an army carry team moves the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of three soldiers killed in Jordan. Credit: AP

The White House has repeatedly stated that Friday night’s strikes represent only the beginning of a “multi-tiered” operation which may last some time.

The problem for Biden is the hostilities risk growing in intensity and for which there is no obvious off-ramp.

There are 30,000 US forces across the Middle East; as long as the conflict in Gaza continues Iran’s so called ‘Axis of Resistance’ will feel justified in attacking them.

American officials have said although Iran supplies the weaponry and training, it often does not have complete control over its proxy troops in the region.

This is what makes this simmering situation so difficult to predict and to deescalate. Freelance, trigger happy militias are a nightmare for both America and to some extent Iran.

Neither wants this to turn into a dangerous direct war, but if the attacks and instability continues, the hawks in the US, particularly on the political right, will grow more vocal about the need to tackle Iran head-on.

With Donald Trump currently leading the polls for this November’s election, it doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to envisage a world in which a newly-elected President Trump decides to go toe-to-toe with the theocracy in Tehran, unleashing a dangerous domino effect of alliances and mutual assistance.

Iran is allied to Russia, which in turn has grown closer to China in recent years.

It’s a bleak thought, which is why Biden is showing such restraint in the face of repeated provocation.

There have been more than 160 attacks on US troops since October 7.

The fatalities of three US troops last weekend, left the White House with no choice, but to respond.

But they are trying to steer a very narrow path between re-establishing deterrence and avoiding a much wider war.

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