- For the first time, Iran attacked U.S. and coalition troops at the Tanf base in Syria on October 20, 2021, using drones and rockets belonging to militias in Syria and Iraq loyal to Iran.
- The attack constitutes an escalation and is intended to warn the United States and Israel against continuing attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq.
Iran succeeded in surprising the United States and Israel by unexpectedly attacking the U.S. military base in Tanf, Syria, with drones and rockets on the night of October 20. There were no casualties, but the damage was apparently heavy.
Tanf base houses about 400 U.S. troops and civilians as well as Syrian opposition forces. It is located in Syrian territory on the border triangle with Jordan and Iraq. The Pentagon confirmed the strike and said the U.S. reserves the right to respond at the time of its choice.
According to Syrian officials, this is the first time that this base, established to fight ISIS, has been attacked by Iran or its proxies. The barrage was carried out using five drones of the pro-Iranian militias in the region. Three drones flew from Syria, and another two came from Iraq, indicating the high coordination and accuracy of the pro-Iranian militias in the operation of attack drones.
According to various assessments in the United States and Israel, the attack on the Tanf base was an Iranian response to two raids last week on Iranian targets in Syria attributed to Israel in the area of Homs and Palmyra.
Israeli security officials estimate that the Iranian Revolution Guards’ Quds Force under Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani is responsible for the attack.
The Iranian strike is an “escalation,” and the question is whether the Biden administration will contain the new development or hit Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq to signal its refusal to change the rules of the game that have been practiced so far.
A New Strategy
Iran appears to be changing its retaliation strategy regarding Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syrian territory. The Iranians claim that the Israeli Air Force is using the U.S. base in Tanf and that Israeli drones are occasionally launched at Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq.
Iran, Syria, and Russia oppose the presence of the Americans on Syrian territory. The barrage against the base in Tanf was intended to send messages to Israel and the United States and to expedite the American military withdrawal from Syria.
What Messages Does Iran Want to Convey?
- Iran will no longer remain silent about Israeli airstrikes in Syria, and if the United States does not stop them, its base in Tanf will become the target of Iranian attacks.
- Pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq have the operational capability to attack with drones. The United States will have difficulty dealing with Iranian drone weapons, especially considering the apparent lack of U.S. air defense systems in the region.
- A message to Israel: the bombardment of the Tanf base is only a prelude. Later there will also be drone attacks on Israeli bases if Israel continues to attack Syrian territory.
The Iranian action against the Tanf base comes as Russia and Turkey continue political efforts to bring about a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria. Turkey claims that the U.S. military in Syria protects the Kurds, while Syria claims that the U.S. military presence is an “occupation.”
In a television interview recently, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad said that the U.S. military presence in Syria was “an act of occupation.” Because, he continued, “all free countries support the war against the occupation, we have many ways to convince the United States to withdraw from our country.”
The ball is now in the U.S. court: failure to respond militarily to the rocket and drone salvo against the Tanf base will be interpreted as weakness and will invite further Iranian attacks because Israel does not intend to stop airstrikes against Iranian military targets in Syria.
Following the attack on the Tanf base, Washington must carefully consider the policies it has adopted recently, which have eased the economic sanctions imposed on Syria.