The US military strikes in Syria are aimed at destroying weaponry and deterring Iranian-backed groups from targeting American troops, the White House said on Thursday.
The United States carried out strikes in early hours of Thursday local time against a weapon storage facility in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said was used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.
President Joe Biden said the United States had to respond after US troops were targeted and that the retaliatory strikes were working. Asked if the US military would respond again, Biden told reporters it would if it had to.
Since the Israel and Hamas war broke out on October 7 after a terror attack by the Palestinian group, Iran’s proxies resumed their rocket and drone attacks against US bases in Syria and Iraq, which had not taken place for more than a year.
However, the US retaliatory attacks have been limited to one or two targets and has so far failed to deter Iran and its proxies. Critics have been demanding a more robust response. They say Biden's lenient approach towards the Islamic Republic has emboldened not just the regime but its proxies in the region.
White House spokesman John Kirby separately told CNN that the US strikes "had a practical impact on their ability to arm these groups, but also to send a strong signal of deterrence."
"These groups have a choice to make: If they want to continue to attack our troops in Iraq and Syria, then they're gonna have to face the consequences for that," Kirby added.
US and coalition troops have been attacked at least 40 times in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces since the start of October, as tensions soar over the Gaza war. Forty-five U.S. troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.
Iran has denied involvement. Tehran's ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, said on Thursday separatist groups were responding to the Israeli assault that has killed more than 10,800 Palestinians in Gaza.
"It is a natural reaction by the resistance groups. It is their own decision and by their own direction," Iravani said in an interview with CNN.
The White House rejected the ambassador's assertion.
"He stands on a real, real, real fine little pin there when he talks about coordination and not directing," Kirby responded.
"To some degree, they probably do have some measure of autonomy, but they are absolutely encouraged to do these attacks," Kirby said.
"We know that the IRGC is involved directly with helping these groups make some of the decisions that they're doing, and in fact directing some of these attacks."
When Biden assumed office in January 2021, he launched indirect negotiations with the Tehran to revive the Obama-era JCPOA nuclear accord that his predecessor had abandoned.
The talks failed to reach a new agreement, but in August Washington agreed to release $6 blocked in South Korean banks in exchange for Iran freeing 5 Americans held hostage. The deal was harshly criticized by Republicans and others as providing Tehran with money that it could use to finance its destabilizing activities in the region.
Critics also charge that the Biden administration has failed to enforce existing US sanctions and Iran’s oil exports have increased to near pre-sanctions days.
Senate Republicans introduced a bill before the October 7 Hamas attack that would make it extremely difficult for the Biden administration to lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran.
The PUNISH Act takes away the President’s executive authority to lift economic penalties until the administration can show that the Islamic Republic and its affiliated groups in the region have ceased all attempts to assassinate American officials, citizens, and Iranian nationals in the United States.
“If you want to strangle Iran, you cut off their oil,” said Republican Senator John Kennedy on Monday. “The Biden admin is choosing not to do that, and now they wonder why Iran’s proxies thought they could get away with attacking Israel and, by extension, America.”