Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and defense secretary during the Obama administration, voiced support for a “more aggressive” response to attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East.
He made the comments during a panel discussion on Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum along with former National Security Advisors Stephen Hadley and Robert O’Brien.
The moderator, Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, broached the topic of contending with Tehran after Iranian proxies attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria dozens of times over the past several weeks.
“I would basically determine where those missiles are coming from — and we have the capability to do that … and then attack those positions immediately in order to make sure that they don’t do it again,” Panetta said. “I would be much more aggressive about going after those that attack our U.S. forces,” he added before contending that Iran would rather lean on terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas rather than enter a war.
U.S. military retaliatory strikes on weapons facilities and other targets in response to the attacks, which have ramped up as Israel wages war against Hamas, have been “a little bit too selective.” Panetta said. “I want to go after those who are firing missiles at our troops and make sure they understand that when they fire a missile — they are going to die,” he added.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered remarks at the same event in California in which he discussed strengthening the position of U.S. forces in the Middle East to assist Israel and shore up deterrence in the region.
“As we are working to stabilize the region, Iran is raising tensions,” Austin said. “And after attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, our forces repeatedly struck facilities in Iraq and eastern Syria used by Iran’s [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and by militias affiliated with Iran.”
He continued, “We will not tolerate attacks on American personnel. And so these attacks must stop. And until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops — and to impose costs on those who attack them.”
There has been some pressure from Republicans in Congress on the Biden administration to respond more forcefully to the attacks by Iranian-backed groups.
“We’ve only hit back a few times. When we do hit back, it’s almost always at empty proxy warehouses or maybe proxy forces in Iraq and Syria,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said in a “Fox News Sunday” interview last week. “It seems like the president wants to go out of his way to avoid Iranian casualties. I would target Iranians who are operating in Iraq and in Syria. I would also send a clear message to Iran if these attacks don’t stop immediately, then we’ll begin to threaten their assets.”
He also said: “The way to stop these attacks is not be fearful and hesitant and cautious in a response, but massive retaliation to make it clear we will not tolerate these attacks on Americans.”