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How Iran could respond to U.S. strikes


For the second day in a row now, the U.S. has launched retaliatory strikes against Iran-linked targets in the Middle East. Today, strikes conducted by both the U.S. and the U.K. hit targets in Yemen, and those followed dozens of U.S. air and missile strikes yesterday that hit Iranian-linked targets in Syria and Iraq. All of these are a response to a drone attack by an Iran-backed militia last Sunday that killed three American service members in Jordan. Yesterday, strikes hit targets at facilities used by Iranian forces, though none of the strikes were in Iran itself.

This all leads to questions about whether the Israel-Gaza war could widen into a full-blown conflict between the U.S. and Iran. We want to understand how Iran might respond to U.S. attacks, so earlier today, we called up Afshon Ostovar, associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He's also the author of the upcoming book "Wars Of Ambition: The United States, Iran, And The Struggle For The Middle East." I asked him what he thinks Iran will do next.

AFSHON OSTOVAR: Well, honestly, I don't think much is going to happen in terms of what Iran does. I think Iran's proxies, particularly in Iraq and Syria, will continue to do what they've been doing, which is launching intermittent rocket attacks against U.S. bases. It may not happen tomorrow, but it'll happen in the coming days and weeks. Iran is pretty limited in what it can do, frankly. If it does anything directly, it would trigger a war, most likely with the United States, and it knows this. So it works through proxies in order to keep the violence away from Iran's doorstep but also below the threshold of war with the United States.

DETROW: I mean, you're hearing this dual message from the president. It was in the statement that he released after these strikes were confirmed, and he said a version of it a lot, that the U.S. does not want a broader war in the Middle East, but the U.S. is going to respond when Americans are harmed. Do you think that Biden can accomplish both of those goals at the same time in the coming weeks?

OSTOVAR: Well, yes, in the sense that the United States can respond, and it can calibrate responses that are done in such a way that Iran is unlikely to respond directly. That's what I think you saw in these latest strikes. There was a long lead-up to the strikes. There was a long time for Iran to pull assets out of Syria and Iraq. There's no reports of Iranian military officers being killed in any of these strikes. So in that respect, I think the Biden administration, you know, has been able to succeed in walking that fine line by both responding, showing that the United States is going to respond with force but also keeping it below the threshold of something that might trigger escalatory strikes by Iran.

DETROW: I mean, I opened talking about concerns of a broadening conflict. You sound, just by the tenor of your answers, a little more levelheaded that you think this can kind of stay as is. You don't see it necessarily getting really out of control very quickly.

OSTOVAR: Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, let me say this. I believe we are in a regional war, and I believe we've been in a regional war for a long time. The Gaza War is one spike and increasing in tempo in that regional war. But we have to remember that these strikes against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria were going on before the Gaza war. They were going on before October 7. What is new is the intensity. But even if the Gaza war is settled tomorrow, this underlying regional conflict being waged by Iran and its clients and proxies will continue.

DETROW: That's professor and author Afshon Ostovar. Thanks so much for joining us.

OSTOVAR: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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