Two congressional aides and a defence official told NBC News that the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran is attempting to increase pressure on Israel and the U.S. through its proxies in the region rather than desiring a direct battle with the United States at this time.
However, the sources stated that Iran’s strategy increases the possibility of error in judgement and an unintentional regional conflict.
Provocative actions by Iran’s partners, including Hamas in Gaza and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, are also designed to shape Israel’s calculations as it prepares for an expected ground operation in Gaza. Tehran’s efforts appear to be a bid to force Israel to limit the scope of the military campaign, the two congressional aides said.
Israel has vowed to “destroy” Hamas following a devastating Oct. 7 attack by the militants across the southern border that caught Israel by surprise and killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The Biden administration has said Iran was complicit in the Hamas assault as Tehran has armed, trained and financed the group for decades.
On Thursday, five drones and three cruise missiles fired by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen were shot down by a U.S. Navy ship in the northern Red Sea. According to the Pentagon, Israel may have been the target of the missiles and drones.
A senior Israeli official said, “In my opinion, the Houthi missile attack would not have been executed without Iran’s green light.”
Two rockets were fired at American installations in Baghdad on Friday; a defence official indicated that this was in line with the activities of Iraqi militias that support Iran.
Al-Tanf, an American outpost in southern Syria, was the target of at least two drone strikes on Wednesday. One of them was shot down by the US military, but the other one hit the base, injuring a few US soldiers very slightly, according to the Pentagon.
While the U.S. is currently looking into the source of the drone flights, preliminary evidence points to militias with Iranian support being the drone operators. In recent years, pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq have attacked American forces multiple times with drones and rockets.
Iran has historically maintained armed proxies in the region to ward off opponents, expand its political influence, and make its adversaries think twice before striking Iran directly, despite its comparatively low conventional military might.
The former undersecretary of defence for policy, Michele Flournoy, stated to CNBC on Wednesday that it was improbable that Iran would intervene directly in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. However, she noted, there was an increasing risk of an unintentional battle erupting, particularly near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Israeli military troops and Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, had clashed.
“The risk of miscalculation is very, very high. The risk of one side or the other misinterpreting actions across the northern border and having that escalate is very real,” Flournoy said.
Remarks were declined by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. When contacted for comment, the CIA did not reply right away.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: “We can’t rule out that Iran would choose to get directly engaged some way.”
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Sullivan added: “We have to prepare for every possible contingency. That’s exactly what the president has done.”