This is rich. This is terrifying. For over a decade Israel and the U.S. have tussled about whether to attack Iran. Usually the Israelis wanted to do it and Presidents like Bush and Obama said No. But it wasn’t easy. They had to send the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, national security advisor and defense secretary to Israel to read Bibi the Riot Act. Not to mention tempting him with goodies like $38-billion over ten years for Israeli military aid. But at least they acted like the adults in the room. As a result, we did do lots of terrible things to Iran. But at least we didn’t drop The Big One on them.
Then along comes Donald Trump in his Big Boy pants, watches a FoxNews segment report on an IAEA study saying Iran now has twelve times more enriched uranium than it did under Pres. Obama. The study also alleges that Iran has refused to permit inspectors to visit sites which might have housed nuclear facilities. Liberals start making the point that under Trump Iran has run rampant in enriching uranium. So what does Big Boy Don do? He calls together his Defense Secretary, Secretary of State, Vice-President and says: “I want to bomb Iran.”
A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Mr. Trump asked his top national security aides what options were available and how to respond, officials said.
After Mr. Pompeo and General Milley described the potential risks of military escalation, officials left the meeting believing a missile attack inside Iran was off the table, according to administration officials with knowledge of the meeting.
I imagine there were a long few beats of silence till some poor shlub got the nerve to pipe up from the back: “But Mr. President, that might not be such a good idea.” Then gradually a few more brave souls who’ve probably been circulating their resumes, raised their voices timidly to suggest that this might cause a regional war or provoke major retaliatory attacks on U.S. targets. Gradually, Big Boy gets tired of the shiny new toy (or idea) he was playing with and moves on to another. The assembled staff leave the room believing that Trump has tossed the idea aside. But has he? And will he come back to it? And how do they deter him next time?
The point being that we are in a dangerous, unstable period of flux. Trump has dismissed almost all the senior national security officials in his administration (some positions many times over). Those jobs are now filled not just by interim figures, but by junior figures who’ve never held these portfolios before. Their level of expertise and nuance is almost non-existent.
Not only are we transitioning from one administration to another, we are in the midst of absolute chaos deliberately provoked by the outgoing president. A figure with almost no impulse control and prone to fits of rage and jealousy. Not to mention spitefulness. In order to take revenge on Obama and poke his finger in Biden’s eye, would he attack Iran?
Since Mr. Trump dismissed Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and other top Pentagon aides last week, Defense Department and other national security officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.
Even if Trump ultimately decides against such an attack, what’s to stop Bibi Netanyahu from sending his own forces to assault Iran’s nuclear facilities? According to Israeli media accounts, at least twice in the past decade Netanyahu was on the verge of ordering such an operation, only to be dissuaded by a joint phalanx of his intelligence and military chiefs who opposed it. With the prime minister now facing a divided government, a COVID pandemic raging out of control, and three corruption counts which will be tried in court, an Iran adventure would be just the ticket to distract the public from his predicament.
Nor would the Israeli leader have to worry about a U.S. president applying the brakes. In fact, Trump would probably delight in Israel making Joe Biden’s life miserable as he tried to pick up the pieces after such an attack. How would Biden be able to resume negotiations for a return to the JCPOA? Why would Iran have any interest after being pummeled by Israeli bombs? Trump loves wreckage. This would be just the ticket.
Consider as well, my post of earlier today in which I referred to an Israeli report that the timing of the leak about the assassination of Al Qaeda’s number two official in Tehran was deliberate: it was intended to remind Biden only a few days after his election, that if he’s tinkering with the idea of making nice to Iran, Israel will be waiting in the wings to remind him and the world that the Islamic Republic is a nest of terrorists.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.