On 26 October, the United States carried out air strikes on two positions outside Al-Bukamal in Eastern Syria in response to 10 separate attacks by Iranian-supported militias against US forces in Syria and 13 in neighbouring Iraq that have injured at least 21 service personnel since Hamas’ 7 October brutal attack in Israel, leaving over 1,000 dead and over 210 held hostage.
Concurrently, the tempo of Israeli strikes in Syria has increased dramatically, including at least nine air strikes on Syria and the repeated bombing of Aleppo and Damascus airports, as well as indirect fire on positions throughout southwest Syria.
Taken together, the dramatic increase of anti-US attacks in Syria and Iraq as Israeli forces continue to mass along the Gaza frontier to launch an expected incursion indicates that an increase in fighting along Israel’s northern border is increasingly likely.
As Israel weighs its options while working with US regional allies to get the remaining hostages out of Gaza, Washington should continue to be a very cool customer in Syria, establishing deterrence through precision strikes, all the while staying off an escalation ladder that leads to a destructive regional conflagration with Iran that could draw in US allies and adversaries alike.
Spike in Iranian-supported attacks against US forces
Attacks by Iranian militias against US forces in Syria are not new but have been increasing in number and complexity throughout the year through the use of suicide drones.
Well-reported open-source data on Iranian militia activity shows three separate rocket attacks on US Syria bases in January 2023, along with the launch of three suicide drones on January 20, 2023, that injured two US-partner personnel in Syria — a seeming test by Iranian-supported militia of systems they have used in recent days.