Trump to his Hawks: Batter Iran, But Don’t ‘Start WWIII’
In the waning weeks of the Trump administration, senior officials have undertaken a variety of actions designed to thwart Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda and make it impossible for Biden to renew nuclear talks with Iran. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump gave his most hawkish advisors, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, carte blanche to batter the Iranian regime, as long as they “avoid start[ing] WWIII,” the Daily Beast reported.
One White House official said that Trump has mostly “checked out” of foreign policy as he is so consumed with the legal wrangling concerning the presidential election.
This leaves Pompeo and Elliott Abrams, the special representative for Iran, with a wide range of latitude as they lead Trump’s eleventh-hour attempts to squeeze Tehran.
Trump considered a pre-emptive strike against Iran as recently as November 12, but then decided against it.
The President’s latest directions leave a wide range of options available to the hawks in his administration, including the imposition of additional sanctions. Two officials interviewed by the Daily Beast said the administration will be unveiling harsh new sanctions in the coming weeks.
Pompeo said the State Department is planning a “flood” of additional sanctions prior to Biden’s inauguration. The State Department had already revealed new sanctions against Iranian entities on November 18.
Israel recently conducted airstrikes in Syria that killed ten Iranians, and Israel is likely responsible for the strike that killed Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. If the Iran-Israel conflict sparks before Biden takes office, it will be almost impossible to resurrect the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran.
That’s not the only area of foreign policy where the Trump administration is attempting to hamstring Biden.
On November 10, the State Department announced a $23.37 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates in exchange for their normalization of relations with Israel. And according to reports, the State Department is planning to designate Yemen’s Houthi movement a terrorist organization. This would deepen Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and make it difficult for Biden to reverse support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen.
In an unprecedented move over the weekend, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pompeo. The President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is also visiting Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week. It is unclear what official business Kushner is conducting on the trip. Netanyahu, Pompeo and MBS are looking for ways to shore up their grand re-alignment of countries in the Middle East normalizing relations with Israel.