The Trump administration is full of Iran hawks, but key figures at the Pentagon and National Security Council do not agree on how to counter the country’s growing influence across the Middle East.
Two national security council staffers, senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and Derek Harvey, the council’s chief Middle East adviser, want the U.S. to counter Iran’s dominant presence in southern Syria, according to a report by Foreign Policy. However, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior military leaders do not agree.
Iran is believed to have thousands of militia proxies propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally in the region. These proxies have become a growing problem for Washington in recent months, as U.S. forces have been forced to fire on them several times in self-defense.
Cohen-Watnick and Harvey want to go on the offensive against these forces, but Mattis has rejected their plan several times, according to FP.
Mattis is well-known for his tough stance on Iran. He once suggested that the U.S. stage an attack inside Iran after Iraqi proxy groups, supplied with Iranian rockets, conducted attacks on U.S. forces. The Obama administration shot down the idea.
Military commanders and diplomats agree with Mattis, according to FP, noting that the U.S. does not need another front in the region as the fight against the Islamic State continues. Coalition forces have said several times that they do not wish to fight pro-Syrian forces, and have called upon all sides to focus on the ISIS fight.
President Trump has made it clear that he wants to pursue a tougher stance on Iran. The administration is currently evaluating its Iranian policy. Meanwhile, Iran continues to expand its influence in the ongoing war in Yemen and Iraq, in addition to Syria.
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