Mike Pompeo will visit the Middle East, including Israel, next week. The timing is interesting. What could the outgoing U.S. secretary of state be after here, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging and his boss supposedly packing his bags after his clear-cut loss to Joe Biden in the presidential election?
One of President Donald Trump’s last loyalists, Pompeo was the fellow who declared this week that Washington is indeed preparing for a governmental transition next January 20 – from the first Trump administration to the second Trump administration.
This is the unswerving loyalty that ensured Pompeo’s survival as secretary of state, during a period in which the president quickly got fed up with most of his senior officials. Just this week, Trump completed another night of the long knives in the Pentagon and dumped, as expected, a number of officials, notably the defense secretary, Mark Esper. The president never forgave Esper for his opposition to sending the army into the streets last summer to pummel the demonstrators against him. Some of the new appointments come from the lunatic fringes of the American right wing, from realms where conspiracy theories are standard fare.
An evil spirit is hovering over the American capital these days. Along with purges at the top, Trump and his advisers are busy managing a battle of legal self-defense with the aim of overturning the election result, or at least of disrupting Biden’s entry into the White House.
Despite the lurid screams of the Trump cult in the United States and its clones in Israel, the overwhelming majority of American experts believe that the president doesn’t have a legal case to prove systematic voter fraud.
The question is whether Trump, who never intended to concede the election, is only immersed in processing his mourning and his advisers are flowing with him, or whether there is a plot afoot, desperate and hopeless, to thwart the transition of power. The most likely explanation is that Trump, like the renter of an apartment who has turned out to be an insufferable nag, is actually negotiating the terms of his departure.
If he manages to maintain, over time, the notion held by some of his voters that the election was stolen from him, he will entrench his status in the Republican Party, perhaps launch a new right-wing television network, “Trump TV,” and position himself for the 2024 election.
The New York Times, quoting senior sources in the Pentagon, reported this week that the concern there is that Trump is planning one last dramatic act before he leaves – a military attack in Iran or Venezuela. Gen. H.R. McMaster, one of the four national security advisers Trump went through, told Fox News on Wednesday that there is a possibility Israel will attack Iranian nuclear facilities before Trump leaves office.
In every year between 2009 and 2013, as was reported superficially at the time and in greater detail afterward, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered launching a massive air strike against Iran.
On one occasion, an argument broke out between Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, and, on the other side, Mossad chief Meir Dagan. The latter objected to “squeezing the spring,” the directive to prepare for an attack within the space of a few weeks.
American experts believed then that the possible timing for an attack would depend on the “weather window,” referring to the cloud conditions that prevail over Iran in the winter and that would hamper an attack in that season. In the Trump era, against the background of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, the question of bombing the country did not arise directly until now. However, a series of incidents occurred that obligated the use of more limited force: the Mossad’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archive (revealed in May 2018), the assassination by the United States of Gen. Qasem Soleimani (last January) and a mysterious explosion, for which no one claimed responsibility, in a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz (last July).
Ahead of Pompeo, the State Department’s “special representative for Iran and Venezuela,” Elliott Abrams, visited Israel this week. Asked about a possible Israeli military strike, Abrams repeated an anecdote from 2007, during the George W. Bush administration. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted to recruit the Americans for a joint move to attack the nuclear facility that North Korea had built in Syria. “Bush replied that America is not a traffic cop,” Abrams noted. “We don’t deal with green lights or red lights.”
Abrams said his visit was meant to coordinate the sharpening of the sanctions plan, “maximum pressure,” against Iran. In the background is the intention of the Biden administration to renew the negotiations on the nuclear agreement after he enters office or, more likely, after the Iranian presidential election next June.
Trump is the least predictable U.S. president ever. There’s a certain edginess in Israel over the attempt to grasp his intentions concerning Iran during the transition period. If Trump is sharing his thoughts with Netanyahu, the prime minister so far is not updating the defense establishment. It appears unreasonable, in these circumstances, that Netanyahu will seek to impose on his coalition allies from Kahol Lavan (and on the Israel Defense Forces high command, which has reservations) a unilateral Israeli move in Iran. But it’s hard to completely rule out an American operation, with Israel getting some of the ricochets of the Iranian response to it.
Header: WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 15: U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on September 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. Netanyahu is in Washington to participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords. Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images/AFP
Original: Amos Harel – HAARETZ