It didn’t take long for the US military to retaliate to the drone strike in Jordan that killed three American soldiers. It was always a question of how hard and when, not if, America would strike back. ‘Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,’ President Joe Biden said in a statement. Be in no doubt though: the US air strikes, using long-range bombers to hit 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, mark a dangerous and unpredictable new phase in the spiralling Middle East conflict, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The Americans chose their targets carefully enough. They hit four locations in Syria and three in Iraq linked to the Tehran-sponsored militias. The targets included command and control centres, rockets, missiles and drone storage facilities, as well as logistics and munition supply chain facilities, according to US military officials. Also targeted were facilities used by Tehran’s Quds Force — significantly, it is the first time the US has hit the force directly in the region. The Syrian Defence Ministry described the attacks as ‘blatant air aggression’. Iraq has described the action as a ‘violation of Iraqi sovereignty’ and warned of ‘dire consequences’. Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the attacks as a violation of international law and said the US was engaging in ‘another adventurous and strategic error’.
The danger signs are everywhere. The drone strike in Jordan last weekend was a significant escalation in itself — the first deadly attack on US soldiers. It was aimed at provoking an American response, which has duly come. Slowly but surely the Middle East conflict has been growing since the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October. The Houthi forces in Yemen, also Iranian-backed, have been firing drones and missiles at ships in the Red Sea.