According to CNN, a U.S. led coalition against ISIS waged a series of airstrikes against a military convoy of loyalists to the Syrian regime. These forces were bombed on Thursday, after it was determined that they were advancing into one of the established de-confliction zones, according to a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name of the coalition fighting ISIS.
The official statement said that the vehicles did not stop despite the show of force and warning shots. A second defense official also noted that the airstrike hit the convoy after the vehicles continued toward the base. The airstrikes were considered to be a self-defense move, given the militias’ close proximity to a base used by elite U.S. and coalition troops. Pro-Assad Shia militias are backed by Iran and have historically operated in that area.
The coalition also confirmed that the convoy posed a direct threat to its partner forces, despite attempts from Iran’s ally Russia to dissuade the pro-regime movement from going toward the base.
Several reasons contribute to making the timing of this escalation so significant.
One, it comes just weeks after the U.S. warships in the Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Assad’s Shayrat airbase, which was allegedly used to launch chemical weapons in an attack in northern Syria. It was also the first time the U.S. directly attacked the Syrian government. Secondly, the al-Tanf skirmish comes hours after President Trump is scheduled to leave Washington on a tour of the Middle East, which is his first overseas trip since taking his oath of office.
Part of the trip will include a visit to Jerusalem and Riyadh, where he is expected to assure allies that his administration is committed to containing and deterring Iran, which is currently the principal security underwriter of the Assad regime in Syria.
Sanctions are also continuing to flow from the U.S. against various Iranian officials. The latest ones were notable because both involved weapons and explosives.
Finally, the U.S. has confirmed the presence of a crematorium for incinerating corpses of political prisoners at Sednaya Jail in Damascus. This has been circulating in the international media for months, but was just recently confirmed by the U.S. State Department.
The reality is that Iran’s desire to expand its territory and influence within the region have impacted the overall stability of the region. Iran is also chafing under the continued presence of the U.S. in the Middle East. Iran’s presence in Syria is also seen as more evidence of its power grab, worrying other nations surrounding Syria. The current agreement of de-escalation zones appears to be a soft portioning of Syria by external forces, including Iran.
The long-term implications of the U.S. standing its ground with Iran in Syria is just another example of how the new administration has a different take on relations with Iran.