US and Israel strike militias tied to Iran in reminder of risks in Mideast
By Andrés R. Martínez
The United States stepped up attacks on armed groups in Syria over the weekend, while Israel continued to strike a militia in Lebanon, in a reminder of the risk of a wider conflict as Israel pushes deeper into the Gaza Strip in its fight against Hamas.
The U.S. military conducted a new round of airstrikes against facilities used by Iran and its proxies in eastern Syria on Sunday, possibly killing and injuring militia members, in an apparent escalation by the Biden administration to the near-daily attacks on U.S. soldiers in Syria and Iraq since Oct. 17.
And Israel continued to respond to attacks from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia that has been firing missiles and rockets across into Israel from Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, told supporters on Sunday that the group intended to keep up pressure on Israel, targeting sites deeper into Israel.
The latest U.S. and Israeli strikes come as Israel’s military consolidates control of Gaza City, the urban center that it says Hamas uses to store weapons, plan attacks and house fighters. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the goal is to destroy Hamas, which led a surprise attack on Oct. 7 in southern Israel that killed at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
As Israel has pushed deeper into Gaza, the United States has been moving military assets, including fighter jets, missile defense systems, and an aircraft carrier, to the Middle East, to prevent a regional war that could drag U.S. forces into conflict with Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States is not seeking a broader conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to respond to attacks on U.S. soldiers.
More than five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas, nearly 1.5 million Gaza residents have fled their homes, according to the United Nations. The fighting has led to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with hospitals running out of fuel and medical supplies, and food and water becoming scarce.
Conditions at Al Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, have grown dire in recent days. Hundreds of seriously ill and wounded patients and displaced people have been trapped inside as Israeli tanks and troops close in on the compound, and close-quarters combat is taking place nearby.
The U.N., aid groups and world leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, have asked Israel to agree to a cease-fire to allow more civilians to escape to safety. Israel has rejected calls for a cease-fire and instead agreed to short pauses in fighting on a daily basis.
Last week, Blinken said that too many innocent Palestinians had died, and he asked for a sustained pause in fighting so that more aid could enter Gaza. He stopped short of criticizing the Israeli government, and reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself, dismissing the idea of a cease-fire. But his comments highlighted the growing frustration among Israel’s allies with the rising death toll in Gaza, which local officials say has surpassed 11,000, according to health authorities in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.