It’s never a good sign when the United States says it “doesn’t want war” – at a moment a long known geopolitical flashpoint region stands on the brink. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday delivered a stern warning to Iran before a UN Security council meeting, saying the US is prepared to respond “decisively” if Tehran or its proxies launch attacks on Americans in the Middle East.

Not only does the Pentagon still have thousands of troops and assets in Iraq, long under the domination of Shia paramilitary influence, but it has up to a thousand or so troops occupying broad oil and gas regions of eastern Syria. Missile and drone attacks on Pentagon outposts in Syria and Iraq have been rising in the last days. But the real concern is on Israel’s northern border, where Hezbollah has launched multiple guided missile and anti-tank attacks on Israel border posts, including on Tuesday.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Blinken told the UNSC “We do not want this war to widen. But if Iran or its proxies attack US personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security, swiftly and decisively.” Russia’s President Putin, who since 2015 has stationed major assets in neighboring Syria, just the day prior blamed Washington for stoking “escalation” in the Middle East by moving two US carrier strike groups into the region.