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Biden Administration Fears Iran Might Target U.S. Forces Over Israel Strike

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Biden Administration Fears Iran Might Target U.S. Forces Over Israel Strike

The White House is worried that Iran might strike a U.S. target as part of a potential retaliation for Israel’s April 1 attack on its embassy in Damascus, Syria, according to notes from a meeting involving National Security Council officials earlier this week. Tehran has vowed that “Israel will be punished” for the Syria strike and the killing of Quds Force commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi.�

New concern about a potential Iranian strike comes even though the Biden administration has sought to distance itself from the Israeli airstrike, stressing that it had no advance knowledge of the operation.

“I don’t have anything more to say about the strike in Damascus, except that we weren’t involved in any way whatsoever,” NSC spokesperson retired Adm. John Kirby said on Monday.�

On Monday night, Iran conveyed to the Biden administration that if it involved itself in defending Israel were Tehran to undertake a retaliatory strike, it would consider the United States a viable target as well. The issue was discussed at a Tuesday NSC meeting, according to notes reviewed by The Intercept. (The NSC did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the Tuesday meeting, an NSC official conveyed high-level concerns that the administration did not want to publicly appear to be in any official dialogue with Tehran, with whom the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations.

Last Friday, four days after the Israeli airstrike, over a dozen Republican senators signed a letter accusing the Biden administration of undertaking a “strategy of appeasement” with Iran.�

Despite an-ever widening and escalating military action since the Gaza war began, the Biden administration has insisted that the war remains contained to Israel, despite attacks by Israel in Syria and Lebanon; despite repeated attacks by Houthi forces in Yemen and the retaliatory strike that have followed; and despite attacks and responses against U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. The strikes by the U.S. (and its coalition partners) are always described as taking place against “Iran-backed” organizations and militias.

In January, three American Army soldiers were killed by a kamikaze drone launched by an Iranian-backed militia at a U.S. base in Jordancalled Tower 22. There have been over 150 attacks on U.S. Middle East forces since the Israel–Hamas war began. U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon’s Middle East combatant command, has launched a seemingly endless barrage of strikes on Iranian-backed targets throughout the region, as well as undertaken naval and air attacks in and around Yemen.

The position of the Biden administration has consistently been that it doesn’t see any of this as escalation. “We don’t seek a wider war with Iran,” Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said the day after the three U.S. troops were killed in Jordan. “We don’t seek further conflict, we don’t want to see this widen out into a regional conflict.”

Since then, the U.S. has quietly conducted talks with Iranian officials to seek to avoid direct confrontation between the two countries’ armed forces, according to CNN and other media reports. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Biden and his team are working to prevent escalation with Iran in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Israel “must be punished and it shall be.” That same day, Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz said his country would respond with a direct attack. “If Iran attacks from its own territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran,” Katz posted on X. Since April 2023, the U.S. and Israel have been in close cooperation in sharing and building common Iran contingency plans.

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