Iranian-backed groups may have targeted an oil field in Syria and Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq, according to reports on Monday.
Initial reports were unclear, but the overall picture is that Iran could be moving to target US forces in the region. This could be in response to the seizing of oil by the US off a Greek island several days ago. Iran has already moved to grab two Greek ships in retaliation. The US has condemned Iran, as have France and Greece.
“Horrific” explosions were heard at the Asad base in Iraq, Iranian media reported. The reports appear to confirm pro-Iranian groups were behind the attack or that Tehran wants to highlight its possible involvement.
Rising tensions in the region
What’s clear is that tensions are heating up in the region.
Reports of the rocket attack spread on social media on Monday evening, with numerous small Arabic websites and social-media commentators who follow Iraq reporting on the attack on Asad base. This base has been targeted by Iran before, specifically in January 2020, when Iran used ballistic missiles against it. Iran has targeted US forces at the base.
Elsewhere, there was a rocket attack on the Omar oil field in eastern Syria, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“Rockets were fired at the US-controlled Al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria early on Monday,” the report said, adding that US personnel were present at this area.
In the past, Iranian-backed groups stationed near Deir Ezzor have targeted areas in eastern Syria along the Euphrates River, where the US has forces backing the Syrian Democratic Forces. The SDF is the main group the US works with in Syria, and it played a major role in defeating ISIS.
“The rockets, fired from regions where Iran-backed foreign terror groups are known to be operational, did not hit the oil field and fell nearby,” Anadolu reported. “There have been no reports of damage or casualties so far, according to Anadolu Agency correspondents in the area. US forces carried out retaliatory artillery and rocket strikes," they added.
Iran's history of drone attacks
The Omar oil field was attacked last June and July and this past January. Asad base was also targeted last July. Air defenses also shot down drones that targeted Asad base in January.
Pro-Iranian groups use drones, as well as 107-mm. and 122-mm. rockets, in attacks in Iraq and Syria. These groups have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces since 2019. They have also targeted a Turkish base in northern Iraq, have targeted Erbil and Erbil International Airport, where US forces are located, and also targeted an area near the new US Consulate being built in Erbil.
Erbil is the capital of the Kurdistan Region, an autonomous region in Iraq. Iran has also targeted Kurdish dissidents, and Iranian media have said Iran has targeted “Mossad” in northern Iraq.
This comes within the context of Iranian regime anger over the assassination of a key IRGC commander recently and an incident at Parchin in Iran. Iran recently showcased a new drone base. Israel has warned against travel to Turkey due to Iran’s threats.
Iran is likely considering ramping up attacks on the US in Iraq and Syria, in part, due to tension over the seized tanker. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iran on May 30.
“The United States calls on Iran to immediately release the two Greek vessels, along with their cargoes and their crews,” Reuters quoted Blinken as saying last week.
"Iranian and IRGC threats to regional and global security are unacceptable.”US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The report said that the US has confiscated Iranian oil held on a Russian-operated ship near Greece and will send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel, according to three sources. “It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil, or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian nexus,” the report said. “Iran and Russia are facing separate US sanctions.”
The Iranian-flagged Pegas was targeted by the US for sanctions.
Greece has accused Iran of piracy for seizing its tankers.
“These actions are tantamount to acts of piracy,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The Greek tankers are Delta Poseidon and Prudent Warrior. Bloomberg and other media have expressed concern about what this might mean for oil markets.