Joe Biden's Syria Airstrike Was 'Highly Dangerous,' Iran Says Amid Rising Tensions

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said that President Joe Biden's airstrikes against Iran-aligned Iraqi militias in Syria last month was "highly dangerous" and a risk to Middle East stability, as Tehran continues to press the White House for sanctions relief.

Iranian leaders are still demanding that Biden lift all sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump, as the new president seeks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal from which his predecessor withdrew in 2018.

Biden wants Iran to scale back its nuclear program in line with JCPOA restrictions before any sanctions relief, but Tehran has refused any new talks or concessions until sanctions are eased.

Meanwhile, Iran-backed militias are continuing a low-level insurgency against American and allied interests in neighboring Iraq, where Tehran exploited the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation to amass huge influence.

One such attack on the Erbil International Airport last month—which killed one civilian contractor and wounded several Americans—prompted Biden to launch airstrikes against Iraqi Iran-aligned fighters in Syria, close to the border with Iraq.

Zarif said Monday in an interview with the Persian-language Mardom Salari newspaper that the airstrikes were a mistake. "Their move against Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty was highly dangerous and will yield no results but spreading insecurity in the region," Zarif said, according to the state-run Fars News Agency.

Tehran believes that Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA means it is incumbent on Biden to return to full compliance with the deal. Without that, they say, Biden is effectively continuing Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy.

"It seems that Mr. Biden still continues to pursue the maximum pressures policy through sanctions and regional mistakes despite officially acknowledging the failure of Mr. Trump's policy of maximum pressure," Zarif said.

"I feel that Mr. Biden's administration has not yet reached a conclusion on foreign policy," he added, suggesting the White House is facing pressure from domestic opponents of the JCPOA plus U.S. regional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia who are pressing Biden to abandon the accord entirely.

"I think that they have not yet been able to make a decision because of the pressures and that they are not yet convinced that the maximum pressure is a failed policy," Zarif suggested. "Of course, they have stated this, but they don't appear convinced in practice yet. A good result cannot be expected from a wrong policy."

Biden and his top officials have framed the JCPOA as the basis for a "longer and stronger" deal with Iran, which would put restrictions on Tehran's ballistic missile program and its network of proxy militias—two issues Iran has refused to negotiate on.

That regional network of militias is perhaps the biggest threat to a diplomatic detente. Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq in particular are still regularly launching attacks against American and allied troops, prompting demands in the U.S. that Biden take a tougher line on Tehran.

Iranian forces and their allies also remain in a standoff conflict with Israel, particularly in Syria where Israeli airstrikes regularly target Iranian positions and supply lines through which weapons Tehran arms the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

In Yemen, meanwhile, the Iran-supported Houthi rebels are upping the ante against Saudi Arabia, increasing cross border attacks with drone and missile strikes against energy infrastructure and other significant targets including major cities.

But Zarif and other Iranian leaders have repeatedly dismissed any JCPOA renegotiation. The foreign minister wrote on Twitter—which remains banned in Iran—on Friday: "JCPOA cannot be renegotiated—period.

"Let's stop posturing—which we both did 2003-2012 to no avail—& get down to implementing JCPOA—which we both actually signed on to."

US personnel next to jet USS Nimitz
This file photo shows flight deck personnel near an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier while at sea on January 18, 2020 off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. Mario Tama/Getty Images