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Israel-Iran Standoff Threatens To Put American Troops Back In The Crosshairs, Experts Say

The standoff between Israel and Iran could threaten to put U.S. troops in an already chaotic Middle East at heightened risk, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Israel launched targeted airstrikes on an Iranian diplomatic consulate in Damascus, Syria on Monday and killed several members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), including a senior general of the Quds Force. Iran has vowed retaliation against Israel and went as far as to cast blame on the U.S. for the attacks, raising the specter of increased attacks by Iranian-backed terrorist groups against American and coalition forces throughout the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Syria, defense experts and former U.S. officials told the DCNF.

“This is the exact kind of thing that can produce an escalation cycle,” Michael DiMino, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and former CIA officer, told the DCNF. “I do think that Iran is going to weigh their capabilities here.”

Since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched counteroffensive operations in Gaza against Hamas — the Iranian-backed terrorist group that invaded Israel on Oct. 7 and killed over 1,200 civilians — Iran has called on its several Islamic terror proxy groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, the Yemen-based Houthis, and Islamic Resistance of Iraq to launch attacks against Israel and its allies in the Middle East. U.S. forces in the Middle East have sustained a number of these attacks, eventually resulting in the deaths of three American troops who were hit in a drone strike against the Tower 22 base in Jordan in January.

The U.S. retaliated by launching airstrikes against a large number of Iranian-backed targets in Iraq and Syria, prompting Iran to somewhat reel in its terror proxy network’s attacks. While experts agreed that Israel’s airstrike that killed IRGC operatives on Monday was justified — given Iran’s hostilities since Oct. 7 — Tehran’s subsequent warning could hint at a resurgence of attacks against U.S. and Israeli forces, experts told the DCNF.

“Considering Iran has been regularly conducting proxy attacks against US troops in the region, an Iranian response to Israel’s strikes could just be more of the same. Unfortunately, we have failed to substantively respond to now,” Simone Ledeen, senior fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and former Department of Defense (DOD) official, told the DCNF. “I believe there is a significant risk of further escalation.”

“Iran will probably try to look to its proxy groups, especially in Iraq and Syria to try to respond,” DiMino told the DCNF. “We could see another attack on Tower 22 in Jordan.”

Gabriel Noronha, executive director of Polaris National Security and former State Department official, told the DCNF it may even be in Iran’s best interest to target American forces because the U.S. has taken a mostly defensive military position in the current Middle East conflict rather than an offensive one. If the U.S. is hit by more attacks from these Iranian-backed groups, it may prompt Washington to pressure the Israelis into reducing tensions, Noronha said.

“[Iran’s] best avenue to protect themselves is go hit Americans, probably in Iraq and Syria,” Noronha told the DCNF. “So you’ll probably see those attacks start up again.”

Experts differed as to how severe Iran’s retaliation would be. Tehran has the option of tapping its own military, the IRGC, to respond in some fashion, but could also continue working through its proxy groups to carry out attacks in an effort to avoid direct conflict with the U.S.

“Many hardliners in Iran are grumbling against the senior leadership because they have not responded to previous Israeli attacks, and now they fear they look weakened,” retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, senior fellow and military expert at Defense Priorities and host of the Daniel Davis Deep Dive show, told the DCNF, noting that Israel’s strike has put the U.S. in a “terrible bind.” “It’s hard to say what Iran might do, but I imagine they will retaliate in some strong way this time, possibly even hitting an Israeli embassy. They will be under pressure not to escalate too high … but the anger could be high enough in Tehran this time, that they’re willing to take that risk.”

“Iran has been poked in the eye several times here, and they have not really mustered a significant response. They’re sort of in this position where their bluff, in some sense, is being called, and they don’t truly want a direct conflict with the United States,” DiMino told the DCNF. “They would rather work through these proxy groups because they don’t want the heat on themselves directly.”

Kataib Hezbollah — one of the most lethal Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria — declared on Monday that it has enough armaments to equip over 12,000 operatives part of the Islamic Resistance in Jordan in the “defense of our Palestinian brothers,” according to a review of the statement by The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Once it receives approval from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Kataib Hezbollah said, it will start “cutting off the land route that reaches the Zionist entity.”

After the Israeli strike on Monday, U.S. troops stationed at the Al-Tanf Garrison in Syria shot down a suicide drone launched by Iranian-backed proxies in the region. Though it’s unclear what the drone was targeting, it is the first drone the U.S. has shot down in the region in almost two months and could indicate a resurgence of conflict between the U.S. and Iranian-backed groups.

The White House National Security Council and Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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