The Israeli military has initiated what it has dubbed “the second stage of the war,” expanding its ground operations in northern Gaza, with the aim of eradicating the Hamas threat. However, this escalation has raised fears of a broader conflict in the Middle East.
As reported by Reuters on Wednesday, November 1, the Pentagon has responded by increasing the U.S. military’s presence in the region and conducting retaliatory airstrikes on two Iran-linked weapons and ammunition storage facilities in Syria.
The U.S. strategy appears to focus on deterring further escalation. This includes the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the authorization of a terminal high-altitude area defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot battalions to the region.
While this strategic messaging campaign aims to prevent a multi-front war in the Middle East, it does not adequately address the Iranian threat to the United States itself. The Biden administration must shift its approach to prioritize countering this threat.
Iran is unlikely to engage in direct military confrontation with the United States, as such a battle would be highly unfavorable for Iran. Instead, Iran has consistently employed asymmetric warfare, often referred to as the “gray zone,” since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Gray zone warfare exists in the realm between peace and war, where tensions rise, but no formal declaration of war is made. It involves low-tech weapons, proxy actors, cyberattacks, targeted killings, and kidnappings. U.S. leaders have found it challenging to counter this form of warfare due to its lack of a clearly defined battlefield and irregular combatant forces.
Iran has developed an extensive network of militant partners and proxies across the Middle East, supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the elite Quds Force, which provide them with advanced weapons, funding, and training. Collectively known as the “Axis of Resistance,” these groups aim to drive out the U.S. military from the region, targeting U.S. forces, military bases, embassies, and other facilities.
The Iranian threat has extended to the United States, as recently acknowledged by FBI Director Christopher Wray during a congressional hearing. Wray stated that the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has elevated the risk of attacks against Americans in the U.S. homeland.
Notably, Wray mentioned that attacks by Hamas on Israel could inspire terrorist actions in the United States. He also disclosed that Iranians have attempted assassination efforts against dissidents and high-ranking U.S. officials, even on American soil.
According to the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Iran has been building surrogate networks inside the United States for over a decade, primarily for proxy attacks on U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) San Diego Field Office has issued a warning about individuals potentially traveling to or from conflict areas in the Middle East via the Southwest border, specifically mentioning groups backed by Iran. CBP statistics reveal a record number of individuals on the terror watch list encountered at the southern border in FY 23.
These individuals, often referred to as “special interest aliens,” pose a national security threat to the U.S., and they are already listed in the Terrorist Screening Dataset.
Another report has raised concerns about Iran’s plans to attack strategic security assets and institutions within the United States. This report suggests that Iran has identified numerous targets and personnel for potential attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations, including law enforcement officials.
The seriousness and credibility of the Iranian threat are underscored by the U.S. government’s substantial investment in round-the-clock security for individuals targeted by Iran.
Despite these concerns, the Biden administration has not taken significant steps to secure the U.S. southern border from foreign agents. Additionally, the administration has not addressed the growing spread of antisemitism on U.S. college campuses, which may further exacerbate violence as Israel intensifies its efforts against Hamas and Islamic extremism.
The potential for foreign actors to manipulate and incite violence within the United States, similar to the 2020 riots, could destabilize American society and hinder the government’s ability to prevent a broader conflict in the Middle East.
The United States faces a complex challenge in balancing its Middle East interests with its domestic security concerns. As the situation evolves, the commander-in-chief must focus on defending the United States while allowing Israel to address threats to its security.