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Drone Strike Kills 3 U.S. Troops in Jordan; Risk Grows of Regional War over Israeli Assault on Gaza

Written by on 30/01/2024


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The first U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel October 7th. The Pentagon is accusing Iranian-backed militants of killing three U.S. soldiers in a drone strike at a base in Jordan along the Syrian border. The attack reportedly also injured 34 other U.S. troops. On Sunday, President Biden vowed the U.S. would respond, quote, “at a time and in a manner of our choosing,” unquote. The attack comes less than a month after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed the head of an Iranian-backed militia.

A group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack and released video of the attack it says shows the group attacking the American military base. In a statement, the group said, quote, “If the U.S. keeps supporting Israel, there will be escalations. All U.S. interests in the region are legitimate targets, and we don’t care about U.S. threats to respond,” they say.

For more, we’re joined by Rami Khouri, Palestinian American journalist, senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut, his recent piece for Al Jazeera headlined “Watching the watchdogs: The 5 Ds of US Middle East policy: Washington’s delusion, denial, dishonesty, distortion, and diversion have had disastrous consequences for the region.”

Rami, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, if you can talk about this latest attack, three U.S. soldiers dead, 34 wounded, the wounded being medevaced back to the United States? Talk about the significance of who’s claimed responsibility and what this means for a possible escalating regional conflict.

RAMI KHOURI: Thank you. Glad to be with you again, and great to see a show like yours doing such a wide range of coverage of important issues. It’s rare on American TV. I’m happy to be with you.

So, I would say that the significance here is severalfold. First of all, the people who did this attack, the Americans blame a certain group in Iraq funded or backed by Iran. There’s dozens of these groups all over the region. There’s almost as many of these groups around the region as there are American military bases around the region. I think there’s something like 30 or 35 American military bases, with something like 30-40,000 troops. And, of course, when you add the ones that come in on the aircraft carriers, it’s more than that.

So, what you have to see this — you have to see this in the context of a regional situation with many American military installations, some of them killing and attacking Arabs and others, some of them not. And you have to see the groups from Arab countries, official state groups and nonstate actors, like Hezbollah and Hamas and Ansar Allah. That’s the context in which we have to see this.

There are so many potential people who could have done this attack, which should make us wonder about why are there so many people who are potential attackers. It’s because they see the American presence linked very close to what Israel is doing in Palestine. They see this as a threat. And they come right out and say it. The thing about the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, like the Resistance Axis, which is the broader Middle East coalition of Hezbollah, Hamas, Ansar Allah in Yemen, the Islamic groups in — resistance groups in Syria and Iraq, their significance is that they come right out — and they’ve said it so many times — “We’re not scared of being attacked. We’re not put off by the U.S. and Israeli threats. We’re defending our territory. And if we’re aggressed against, we are going to fight back.” This is unusual in this region, but it’s going on all the time.

The Ansar Allah in Yemen have been saying the same thing. The U.S. went in there with — and the U.K., the two great colonial powers in the Middle East of the last century. Both have been attacking Ansar Allah targets in Yemen, and the Ansar Allah people say, you know, “Go ahead. Attack. We don’t care.” And they keep attacking back and hitting ships and trying to fire at other places, as well.

So, that’s the context that we have to look at. And some of it is linked to Gaza. Some of it was there before Gaza, which is another important thing. And the Ansar Allah in Yemen and others have said, “Look, if the U.S. stops actively supporting the genocidal, savage moves of Israel in Gaza, we will stop attacking American targets.” It is significant that this is the first direct strike that killed three Americans, but that’s not as significant as the broader picture that we have to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: Rami Khouri, can you talk about the other countries and their response and where they stand vis-à-vis the United States and Israel? For example, Jordan. I listened to the Jordan deputy prime minister yesterday saying this did not happen on Jordanian soil, it happened in Syria. But, in fact, it looks like it did happen in Jordan. And why that was relevant — because, of course, they’re all very close right there on the border — is he said if it happened on Jordanian soil, they would consider it an act of war.

RAMI KHOURI: Yeah. Jordan tries to stay out of these big conflicts. It’s a small country. It has quite a sophisticated military capability. They spend a lot of money and attention on their security services, both internally and regionally, their intelligence services, their technical capabilities, special forces, things like that. And they try to not get directly involved in large-scale warfare, but to do a little, you know, strategic, pinpoint actions when necessary either to protect themselves or to help their allies, like the U.S. and others.

It’s hard to know exactly where this attack came from. If the U.S. intelligence agencies have the information, they should make it public so people stop speculating. But Jordan is a country with a huge territory on the borders with three, four countries, and it’s very hard to patrol it. By the way, I know that area in northeastern Jordan quite well. I spent many, many days there years ago when I was writing books on archaeology and I lived in Jordan.

And there’s two things I think people should recognize about this area. First of all, if you look at that aerial photograph which you showed of the camp, of Tower 2, I think it’s called — if you look at that photograph and then you go back into the archaeological journals and look at pictures, aerial photographs of Roman and Byzantine camps that archaeologists have mapped in surveys, you find exactly the same thing. And this is a sign that these kinds of foreign military installations inside the region, especially on peripheral border areas, don’t have a long lifestyle, and they will be abandoned, because the local people don’t want them there.

So, the second thing I’d say, that area is really fascinating, because, you know, people call it a desolate desert area. It’s a desert area now because of climate change and overgrazing and things like that, but this was a strategically important region in the beginning of modern civilization as we know it in the Bronze Age. There’s people who think that the Abraham’s Path came through here on his way into what’s known as the promised land, that this is an area developed early urbanism in the Bronze Age, walled large towns, sophisticated water systems, showing the human capabilities that have been in this area for about 5,000 years. So, those are just two little side points I’d like to throw in there.

AMY GOODMAN: I have a last question. Trita Parsi, one of the heads of the Quincy Institute, a well-known Iranian American author and analyst, talking about the U.S. soldiers who died, said, “They didn’t die defending US interests, they died defending Biden’s refusal to press Israel for a ceasefire. Their lives were put at risk by Biden to defend Israel’s ability to continue its carnage in Gaza.” If you could respond to that and, among other things, a thousand Black pastors, across the political spectrum, representing hundreds of thousands of congregants in the Black community in the United States, calling on Biden — who are normally mainly constituents of Biden, supporters of Biden — for a ceasefire? This issue of rather than doing what the Republicans, like Lindsey Graham and Senator Cornyn, are calling for — bomb Iran — are saying, “Go the other way,” as a result of this?

RAMI KHOURI: Yeah, those are two really important points. On the point of the Black pastors — and they represent, I think, around a couple hundred thousand parishioners — they’ve now joined the Arab American and Muslim American groups, located all over the country, with the epicenter in Michigan, who are also telling Biden the same thing, that we’re not going to vote for you if you keep being a part of the genocide in Gaza that Israel is performing. So, this is significant because it’s showing us that American politicians really don’t care about morality or the law. They care about electoral incumbency and staying in power, which is probably what all politicians do, to be fair. Americans are no different.

So, this is a question now that is raised with the death of the three Americans and, I think, 24 injured. And there will be more of these attacks, for sure, because, keep in mind, the Axis of Resistance and these groups, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria, openly say, “Attack us. We don’t care. You’re not going to frighten us.” And this is unusual.

So, the question is: Are American troops now in the Red Sea, in Iraq, possibly in other places dying for the sake of Israel? Israel wants an American-Iranian confrontation. They’ve openly tried to do it, and the Americans have been thoughtful, unusually, in the Middle East by resisting a full-scale war with Iran. But the question becomes: All these actions, are they for the sake of Israel — and not just Israel, but a right-wing, fascist majority that now has been said by the U.N.’s highest court, the world’s highest court, to be involved in genocide? Or is this really about U.S. strategic interests?

U.S. strategic interests have not been well served by the 35, 40 military bases the U.S. has around the region. And remember, this Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria, it emerged out of the destruction that happened in Iraq after the American invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, the chaos that happened after that. It created a lot of these groups. Some of them were tribal, some of them were ideological, some of them were Iranian-linked, and some of them were American-supported. They’re all — you know, they have all kinds of patrons. But all of this goes back to what the U.S. did in Iraq, to a very large extent, and therefore the U.S. really needs to listen to people like Trita Parsi and others, to look at what are we doing in the Middle East.

Is this really the best thing for America’s well-being, or are we serving the interests of Israelis? And if we are, why are we doing that? Is it — and as the Black pastors are suggesting, is it maybe for electoral purposes? Is it for selfish political reasons in the U.S.? These linkages now are becoming much more clear. They’re controversial. They’re sensitive. But they have to be addressed.

And there is a possibility to stop all this militarism, which is the ceasefire that can be installed now quickly, if the U.S. wants, and then moving quickly to a permanent peace negotiation, which will require new leaders in Israel and in Palestine and other places, more credible leaders, but a negotiated peace that resolves the fundamental Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, which will not need 35, 40 American bases and constant, never-ending warfare. And this process is going to go on. It’s going to keep expanding, if we’re not careful. I don’t think we’re going to get a full-fledged war with Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah and others fighting against the U.S. and Israel. That would be a catastrophe for the whole region. I don’t think we’re going to get there. But what we have now is low-intensity, diversified regional warfare, and I think that’s going to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Rami Khouri, I want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian American journalist, senior public policy fellow at American University of Beirut, speaking to us from Boston.

Up next, hours after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza, another genocide case was brought against the Biden administration. It was heard in Oakland, California. Stay with us.



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