The US embassy in Baghdad was attacked by pro-Iranian forces; President Donald Trump has plans to designate Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a terror group.
US president-elect Joe Biden is likely to take the path of soft diplomacy with Iran, as the former American vice president has pledged to revive the Iran nuclear deal signed in July 2015 by then US president Barack Obama.
Biden boldly asserted in his article in Foreign Affairs earlier this year that he would normalise relations with Iran should he be named victor of the American elections.
Despite the Democrat expressing a willingness to approach Iran, and the US election results seemingly going in his favour, tensions are escalating across the Middle East. He is yet to make any move to signify tensions between Washington and Tehran could deescalate.
Instead, President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran has appeared to continue unabated — from weighing up the option of striking Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, as per newspaper reports, to discussing the possibility of declaring the Houthis of Yemen as a terror group. Meanwhile, Iran-backed militias attacked the US embassy in Baghdad’s well-fortified Green Zone last night.
“Iran fears that Trump could make an attack on the country in his last days. (With this latest attack on the US embassy) Tehran wants to send an unmistakable message to Washington that it’s ready for any military engagement,” says Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi Kurdish political analyst who served as an advisor to Iraq's former vice president, Tariq al Hashimi.
Bulovali however thinks that the Trump administration will not go for any bold military option against Tehran, mainly because it looks as though the president will be on his way out in January.
"But Israel making such an attack on Iran is a high possibility,” Bulovali tells TRT World.
Israel has been flexing its muscle in the Middle East for several years now, and this morning, the country launched several attacks in Syria’s Damascus, hitting both Iran’s Quds Force and the Assad regime’s military assets. Israel has also previously made many attacks in Syria against the regime and its ally Iran. Tel Aviv has also started hitting Iran-backed targets in Iraq.
“They induced much damage to rocket launching platforms, leading to serious casualties,” Bulovali says. In a rare acceptance, the Israeli army confirmed that airstrikes were its own.
Bulovali sees recent escalations in Syria and Iraq as signs of preparation from both Iranian and Israeli forces for a possible war in the wake of Biden’s election.
“They are showing their teeth to each other,” he says.
Recent rocket attacks on the US embassy are part of this ensuing shadow war, according to veteran analyst Bulovali.
“They have usually launched one rocket per attack. But this time they sent six rockets,” he says, referring to last night’s attack in the Iraqi capital.
The latest rocket attacks were launched by Iraqi Shia militia groups which are part of Kataib Hezbollah, a group under the influence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, according to Turkish researcher, Mehmet Alaca. He has studied several Shia militias and written a Masters thesis on Iraq’s Hashd al Shaabi, an umbrella group for various Shia militias.
While most Iranians are in a celebratory mood after Biden’s election success, according to TRT World sources, hardliner groups like the Revolutionary Guards seem unmoved by his victory. They consider both the Democrat and Republican administrations as their common enemy.
Alaca says, however, that Biden's projected victory has brought some degree of happiness to various Iraqi Shia militia groups, which, according to him, makes the latest attack a bit of a mystery.
“Kataib Hezbollah condemned the attack, but they did not deny any responsibility for launching attacks in the US embassy either,” Alaca told TRT World.
After Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani’s assassination in Baghdad, some new shadowy Shia groups have been formed and Kataib Hezbollah appears to be in charge of these groups, Alaca says.
“On top of all these developments, rocket attacks came after the Trump administration’s announcement of troop withdrawal from Iraq,” Alaca says.
Iran-backed Shia militias have long demanded the US withdrawal from Iraq.
“It’s an interesting cacophony,” says Alaca of the latest attack in light of Washington’s troop pullout.
There was an uneasy truce between the Iraqi Shia militias and Baghdad, especially when it came to the security of US bases since October. The most recent attack on the US embassy has brought an end to that period of calm.
A troubling legacy for Biden
While Biden wants to develop direct relations with Iran, recent developments ranging from Israel’s Syria airstrikes to Iraqi Shia militias’ rocket attacks to the US embassy might potentially narrow his options.
A recent revelation that a top Al Qaeda figure was allegedly killed by Israelis on behalf of the Trump administration in Tehran in August, also adds to this ongoing drama, signalling that Iran has connections with Washington’s worst enemies.
"According to intelligence sources in Israel, revelation of the assassination of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Mohammed al-Masri, is meant to convey a message to President-elect Biden, who intends to renew negotiations with Iran,” said Israeli newspaper Haaretz in a recent article, showing Israeli unhappiness of Biden’s possible rapprochement policy toward Iran.
“All these recent skirmishes might be ending up to leave a troubling legacy to Biden,” Alaca analyses.
Trump’s recent plan to designate Yemen’s Houthis a terrorist organisation like Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah will make things worse for Biden’s efforts to normalise relations with Tehran, Alaca adds.
“The Trump administration is saying that it will further increase its maximum pressure campaign over Iran in the upcoming month. Its planning to designate the Houthis as a terror group is part of that campaign,” Bulovali views.
Lebanon is unable to form a government as the US has been mounting pressure on the Lebanese leaders to not include Iran-backed Hezbollah in any governing coalition, Bulovali says.
As a result, he adds, Lebanon could prove another spot of trouble for a Biden administration.