Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations Security Council Tuesday that while the US does not seek war with Iran, Washington will not hesitate to “defend our security” after a series of attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria by Tehran’s proxies.
There have been at least six publicly acknowledged attacks on US military sites in the Middle East over the past week, fueled by the Israeli response to Hamas’ surprise terror attack on Oct. 7.
“Let me say what we’ve consistently said to Iranian officials through other channels: The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, we do not want this war to widen,” Blinken said at Turtle Bay. “But if Iran or its proxies attack US personnel anywhere, make no mistake – we will defend our people, we will defend our security swiftly and decisively.”
Iranian-backed forces have attacked military bases in Iraq and Syria hosting US personnel with drones, missiles and rockets almost daily since Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon.
On Oct. 19, the destroyer USS Carney also downed missiles in the Red Sea that were believed to have been launched by Tehran-supported Houthis in Yemen targeting Israeli territory.
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Other Iranian proxies believed to be behind the attacks include Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas itself, which perpetrated the horrific murders of more than 1,400 people across southern Israel, including at least 33 Americans.
“We know Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, and Palestinian civilians are not to blame for the carnage committed by Hamas,” Blinken told the Security Council. “Palestinian civilians must be protected. That means Hamas must cease using them as human shields.
“It’s hard to think of an act of greater cynicism,” he added.
Iran uses money, weapons and logistical support to back radical terror groups across the Middle East to counter its regional rival Saudi Arabia and battle enemies Israel and the United States. Its proxies include:
- Hezbollah of Lebanon: The “Party of God” was founded in 1982, its name chosen by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, with 1,500 Revolutionary Guards sent to train its fighters. The group has become a “shadow nation” inside Lebanon, and was used by Iran to attack Israel and prop up Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War. Since the Hamas attack, Hezbollah has fired rockets into Israel, and Iran has threatened to launch a full-on assault in the north if Israel invades Gaza.
- Hamas of Gaza: The “Islamic Resistance Movement” was founded in 1987 and has close ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It has control of Gaza and exercises influence in the West Bank. Despite religious differences with Iran, the group shares the goal of exterminating Israel. Intelligence shows Iran knew of and backed the Hamas surprise attack on Israel.
- Palestine Islamic Jihad of the West Bank: Sometimes an ally and sometimes a rival of Hamas, it also receives funding and arms from Iran and seeks the overthrow of Israel. Over the weekend, an Israeli airstrike hit a command center being used by both Hamas and PIJ in the West Bank — a sign that the West Bank could be used to attack Israel as it commits troops to Gaza.
- Spies in Jordan: King Abdullah II of Jordan has friendly relations with the US, which Iran seeks to disrupt. The nation’s government was nearly overthrown by the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1970s and worries that Iran is funding anti-government terrorists in the country.
- Assad of Syria: Syria is Iran’s closest ally since the two nations aligned against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. During the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Iran helped keep President Bashar al-Assad in power by providing him technical support and personnel. Since the Hamas attack, Syria claims Israel has dropped bombs on airports in Syria, likely to disrupt the flow of Iranian supplies and weapons. Syria fired artillery into Israeli territory. Meanwhile, a drone attack by an Iranian-backed group wounded US troops at Al-Tanf base. While Assad may not go so far as to declare war on Israel, he’s happy to have Iran use his country to provide support to Hezbollah and Hamas.
- Houthis of Yemen: Islamic rebels who wish to overthrow the government of Yemen (left). Their slogan is “God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.” It’s become a proxy war for Iran, which backs the rebels, and Saudi Arabia, which supports the current president, Rashad al-Alimi. Last week, the Houthis fired nine cruise missiles and 15 drones toward Israel over a period of nine hours. They were shot down by the USS Carney, a destroyer that the US had sent into the Red Sea.
- Kataib Hezbollah of Iraq: Iran backs a number of groups in neighboring Iraq, and since the fall of Saddam Hussein has pushed for a Shia-backed government. But Kataib Hezbollah, the “Party of God Brigades,” may be the most dangerous. It has carried out a string of attacks on US forces. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was advising the group when he was killed by a US strike in 2020. Since the Hamas attack, drones and rockets from Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fired at the Ain al-Asad air base that the US uses.
- Al-Ashtar Brigades of Bahrain: Shia group that seeks the overthrow of the monarchy of Bahrain, with Iran’s support.
Blinken also urged other Security Council members to “tell Iran and its proxies in public and private” not to “open another front against Israel in this conflict” in order to prevent the upheaval from spreading throughout the region.
“We urge members to go step further – make clear that if Iran or its proxies widen this conflict and put more civilians at risk you – you – will hold them accountable,” he said. “Act as if the security and stability of the entire region and beyond is on the line, because it is.”
Blinken then pivoted to boasting about the $1.6 billion the Biden administration has provided Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank since taking office in January 2021 and calling on “all countries, particularly those with the greatest capacity to give, to join us in meeting the UN’s appeal for the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
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“At the heart of our efforts to save innocent lives in this conflict, and in every conflict, for that matter, is our core belief that every civilian life is equally valuable,” he said. “There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives. A civilian is a civilian is a civilian, no matter his or her nationality, ethnicity, age, gender, faith.
“That’s why America mourns the loss of every single innocent life in this crisis, including innocent Israeli and Palestinian men, women children, elderly people, Muslims, Jews, Christians, people of all nationalities and faiths,” he added.
The secretary further pledged that the US would continue to work with the United Nations “to build mechanisms that will enable sustained humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza without benefiting Hamas or any other terrorist group.”
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