Jan 30, 2024

The US is in the midst of a Middle East regional war, CNN.com

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN 3 minute read Published 10:09 AM EST, Mon January 29, 2024 Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and the host of the Audible podcast, “In the Room,” also on Apple and Spotify. He is the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN. CNN — The Biden administration has a regional war on its hands in the Middle East and needs to change its strategy fast. Three US soldiers were killed and more than 30 injured in a drone attack in Jordan this weekend, the first lethal attack on American targets in the Middle East since the October 7 assault on Israel by Hamas. Since the war in Gaza began, Biden’s administration officials have been saying multiple versions of “we got this,” and have been working hard to contain any wider conflict. Yet, in the past four months, we have also seen: ·Routine Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea against commercial shipping and American warships, followed by retaliatory US and UK strikes in Yemen against Houthi targets. ·Almost daily Israeli strikes against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon and almost daily Hezbollah strikes against Israeli targets. ·More than 150 drone and missile attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria, and in response, US airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. ·Multiple Israeli strikes against Iran-linked Syrian targets. ·An ISIS-launched major terrorist attack in Iran. ·Pakistan strike against Iranian targets, and Iran strike against Pakistani targets. ·A full-scale war in Gaza with no end in sight, while a vocal lobby in Israel pushes for a wider war with Hezbollah after tens of thousands of Israelis fled their homes to avoid becoming targets of the Iranian proxy’s rockets. The burgeoning regional conflict now involves 10 countries: Jordan, Iran, Israel, Syria, Pakistan, the US, the UK; Iran’s proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; and four major terrorist groups: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and ISIS. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, which Iran heavily influences, is pushing for all remaining US troops to pull out of Iraq. To bring some order to the region, the US government must use its vast (largely unused, at least as far as the public can see) leverage with the Israeli government to agree to a deal to initiate a ceasefire in Gaza and return the remaining Israeli and American hostages to their loved ones. Then, the Biden administration must use all its leverage to ensure a two-state solution, which is the only way forward for peace. It must be supported both politically and financially by America’s Arab allies who have long talked a good game about supporting the Palestinians, but other than the Qataris this has almost entirely been lip service for many years now. This will require some US diplomatic heavy lifting, but it’s worth recalling that President Jimmy Carter expended significant political capital and, through his own sheer force of will, brought Egypt and Israel to the negotiating table at Camp David after they had fought three major wars against each other to make a peace that has lasted for more than half a century. The US should simultaneously up the price to Iran for the actions of its proxies without getting into an actual shooting war with Iran that would amplify the regional conflict further but might deter the Iranians. The US will have to decide whether to use its cyber warfare capabilities to disrupt communications between the Iranian military and their proxies. The options to retaliate for President Biden are complicated, since he does not want to widen the conflict further. Yet, he does want to retaliate in a manner that will actually deter the Iranians. Getting that balance right is tricky.