Officials: Iranian Proxy Strike on US Base in Syria was Response to Israeli Attack

Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS on 27 February, 2020

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As tensions in the Middle East continue to boil over, the New York Times has reported that an armed drone strike last month on an American military base in southern Syria was Iranian retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria, according to eight American and Israeli officials who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Although there were no casualties in the attack, five “suicide drones” were launched at the al-Tanf base on October 20 in what US Central Command called a “deliberate and coordinated” attack according to the report. Two detonated on impact, and were loaded with ball bearings and shrapnel with a “clear intent to kill,” a senior US military official told the paper.

The Times reported that officials told them that after Israeli intelligence tipped off those 200 US troops at the base prior to the attack, they evacuated and were spared any casualties. The troops were stationed on the base to provide training to Syrian militias in how to engage militarily with the Islamic State.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack,” without providing further details.

The Times reported that both Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials said they had intelligence indicating that Iran was behind the operation. Because three of the drones did not explode, American officials were able to study them and determine that they employed the same technology as drones used by Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Iran has not claimed responsibility for the attack, though Iranian news media applauded it, according to the NYT report.

“There have been a number of these incidents where they accused Iran without any proof or documents,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference last week. “Countries that have established military bases in Syria without the invitation of Syria’s central government, continue policies of terrorism and support terrorist countries are the real root of instability in the region and in Syria.”

The NYT also reported that a Telegram channel run by affiliates of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said the strike was a response to the U.S. allowing Israeli attacks on “resistance” forces in eastern Syria. Militia commanders, it said, concluded that they “must pull the teeth of the snake,” meaning the United States.


The Times of Israel reported that in retaliation, the Treasury Department announced new penalties against two senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and two affiliated companies for supplying lethal drones and related material to insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

President Biden said last month that the United States will respond to actions Iran has taken against Washington’s interests, including drone strikes.

“With regards to the issue of how we’re going to respond to their actions against interest of the US, whether they are drone strikes or anything else, is we’re going to respond,” Biden said in a press conference following the G20 summit in Rome.

TOI also reported that the last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.

That attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Two months after the al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.




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