Iranian proxy attacks on US troops likely to resume, former top Pentagon official says

‘We should expect these attacks to resume, mostly because we know that Iran continues to arm and fund and train these groups,’ Dana Stroul said

Dana Stroul, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence (DASD) for the Middle East, speaks to reporters at a media roundtable in Kuwait City on October 19, 2022. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP) (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Dana Stroul, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said on Thursday that Iran’s proxy attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East — which have abated following a strike that killed three American service members — will likely resume.

“Iran’s strategic objective is to expel U.S. forces from the region, and it has not achieved that objective,” Stroul said on a webinar yesterday with the Washington Institute for Near East Peace, where she is now the director of research. “At this point in time, I would say it is positive that there’s been a pause. But we should expect these attacks to resume, mostly because we know that Iran continues to arm and fund and train these groups.”

She added, however, that a temporary or permanent ceasefire in Gaza could lead to a reduction in violence from Iran’s proxies around the region, given that some of the proxies halted their attacks during the previous pause in the war last year.

Stroul said that the U.S.’s response to the proxy attacks so far — “to selectively seek to impose costs on Iran and its Quds Force proxies across the region,” rather than responding to every attack — has prevented a “full-scale war” in the region.

“But at the same time, Iran does not appear to be deterred from continuing to support and arm these proxies,” she continued. “And it remains to be seen what those attacks look like going forward.”

Stroul recently visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank alongside other WINEP officials, as well as former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and former Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).

Gardner, during the event, reiterated a sentiment expressed by some fellow Republicans: that a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which will require concessions from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, likely can only happen under President Joe Biden, given the need for support from Senate Democrats. That means there are mere months — if not less, given the election season — to secure a deal.

“That is necessary, but probably not sufficient,” he added. “There is a lot more that key actors like the Saudis will need to do to convince senators that such an agreement deserves their votes.”

He also said that Saudi Arabia’s request for a mutual defense treaty with the U.S. will require concessions from the kingdom beyond normalizing relations with Israel.

“I assure you, the United States Senate is not going to easily promise that America will come to the defense of Saudi Arabia without knowing what the Saudis are promising to contribute to our security,” Gardner explained. “If the Saudis believe their willingness to normalize with Israel is the sum total of what they are bringing to the table, without some flesh on the bones of the Saudi commitment to align themselves strategically with the United States, I believe the U.S. Senate will view that as completely insufficient.”

He added that former President Donald Trump’s response to the deal is a “huge political wildcard,” particularly given the election season, which is helping Trump tighten his hold on the party.

Gardner highlighted how Trump’s influence had scuttled the Senate’s border deal, laying out potential scenarios where Trump could oppose a deal on “America First” grounds or tell Republican senators to oppose a deal because he believes he could secure a better one. If Trump is re-elected in November, Gardner added, it’s not clear if Senate Democrats would agree to ratify any deal he negotiates.

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