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Is retaliation the most effective way to strike back at Iranian-backed attackers?


President Biden vowed to respond forcefully when three American soldiers were killed in an attack in Jordan that the U.S. blames on an Iran-backed militia. And this weekend, the U.S. did respond, targeting sites in Iraq and Syria. And it's not over. National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on NBC's "Meet The Press."


JAKE SULLIVAN: We intend to take additional strikes and additional action to continue to send a clear message that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked or our people are killed.

FADEL: Meanwhile, U.S. and British forces continue to hit Houthi targets in Yemen over the weekend in response to militants' attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis, also backed by Iran, are vowing escalation. To examine the U.S. strategy here, we're joined by Dan Byman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan national security think tank. Thanks for being on the program, Dan.

DAN BYMAN: My pleasure.

FADEL: So with the retaliatory airstrikes we saw over the weekend in Syria and Iraq, will this actually stop the kinds of attacks we've been seeing from militias in the region?

BYMAN: It won't stop them completely, but the Biden administration is probably hoping it's going to limit them...


BYMAN: ...That this raises the cost and raises the risk.

FADEL: So I've got to ask, though, does - is there a risk that it will actually escalate? We've heard the Houthis say they're going to escalate. We heard from our correspondent Jane Arraf in Baghdad at a funeral for some of these militia members who were killed over the weekend saying the U.S. is the enemy. So is there a risk that this just escalates things?

BYMAN: There's definitely a risk. The strikes themselves were trying to walk that line between sending a strong message and avoiding major escalation. But whenever you use military force, things can get out of control.

FADEL: Now, major escalation - for many people, the concern is direct confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. Do you see that happening?

BYMAN: Based on the current strikes, that seems unlikely. Iran has always had a very healthy respect for U.S. military strength. The strikes were careful so far, at least not to hit in Iran itself. And Iran's past record shows that it wants to stir the pot but not have things boil over.

FADEL: So in your view, it sounds like you think the administration has taken the appropriate response to walk the line.

BYMAN: I do, but we have to recognize these are limited strikes and they'll probably have limited effects. So if we're hoping this is going to solve the problem, I think that's unlikely, especially in Yemen.

FADEL: Well, let's talk about solving the problem. I mean, the root of all this really is the Israel-Hamas war. The U.S. backs Israel, Iran backs Hamas. And these militant groups in the region say they're doing it in solidarity with Palestinians. So is the key to defusing the tension about dealing with that war?

BYMAN: Absolutely. Now, the militant groups have a lot more goals than just supporting Hamas, but they're using the war as an excuse to ratchet up pressure on the U.S. and if that excuse goes away, then their attacks become a lot harder for them to justify.

FADEL: Now, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is headed to the region to try to defuse tension. What do you think that visit will accomplish?

BYMAN: Well, the secretary's visit is trying to both broker a short-term cease-fire and set the stage for a longer resolution of the conflict, ideally reinvigorating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It's extremely tough. But there is hope that due to political changes within Israel and Hamas' exhaustion, that there might be a cease-fire.

FADEL: Say more about that, when you say you see changes in Israel that might bring about change.

BYMAN: So there's a divide in Israel between those who want to focus primarily on destroying Hamas and those who want to bring the many Israeli hostages home. And they - two can't go together. If you're doing massive day-to-day military operations, you're not going to bring your people home. And there are parts of Israel's war cabinet that believe Israel should be focused on the hostages, even if that means a cease-fire for at least several months.

FADEL: Dan Byman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you for your time and your insights.

BYMAN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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