President Trump Talked Tough. But His Strike on Syria Was Restrained.
Analysts said the limited nature of the strike probably would not compel Russia or Iran into taking significant action.
“The Russian and Iranian responses will likely be shrill rhetorically, but direct responses are unlikely,” said Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert who has worked for several presidents and is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The targets struck were tied to C.W. infrastructure,” he added, meaning chemical weapons, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”
Mr. Ross said it was possible that Iran could respond indirectly by using Shia militias against American forces in Iraq or possibly Syria but even that he said was “less likely because of the limited nature of this attack.”
In the hours and days leading up to the strike, the potential consequences consumed officials meeting at the Pentagon, in the White House Situation Room and at Fort Meade, Md., where United States Cyber Command is situated.
American officials doubted that Russia or Iran would counterattack directly against United States forces in the region. But they focused on the prospect of an asymmetric retaliation that would rely on Moscow and Tehran’s formidable cyberabilities — one that would be harder for Washington to prepare for, or defend against.
There was no immediate intelligence that such an attack was being planned. It was also uncertain how much either Russia or Iran would take the risk of widening the crisis in Syria with a cybercounterattack on the West.
But American officials said they were girding to respond to a range of possible acts of retaliation — including an online strike that could block communications to United States troops in combat zones.
The heated language in the days before the strike focused as much, if not more, on Russia than on Syria, underscoring the dangers of a spiral into a more dangerous confrontation between the two former Cold War adversaries.