Until recently, President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel policy was centered on taking steps related to fulfilling campaign promises and strengthening his standing domestically with his evangelical base.
Chief among these steps was his decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with Iran, and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (and at the same time announcing moving the American embassy to Jerusalem). Trump also signed a presidential proclamation recognizing “Israeli sovereignty” over the Golan Heights.
All of this has changed, however, with the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani and the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mehdi Al-Muhandis.
By deciding to carry out this assassination operation, Trump has brought his pro-Israel policy to an entirely new, and dangerous level.
Targeting the IRGC and PMF: An Israeli policy
It is worth remembering that Israel set the precedent for carrying out lethal operations in Iraq by targeting elements of the IRGC and the PMF.
Israel began these operations last year, with the first taking place on July 19 near the Iraqi town of Amerli. Iranian media later reported that senior IRGC commander Abu Alfazl Sarabian had died in the attack.
Another Israeli attack on August 25 led to the death of a senior PMF commander in the Iraqi town of Al-Qaim near the border with Syria, while 21 PMF members were killed in an Israeli operation near the city of Hit in Iraq’s Anbar province on September 20.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even admitted that Israel was behind these attacks.
“We are working against Iranian consolidation in Iraq as well [as in Syria]” remarked Netanyahu on August 22.
Trump administration officials adopt the Israel line of demonizing Iran
The Israeli fingerprints on U.S. policy could also be seen in the apparent stances taken by U.S. officials following the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis.
According to the New York Times, Trump administration officials have compared the assassination of Soleimani to the killing of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Such a comparison is no doubt to Israel’s liking.
Not only has Israel long sought to equate the IRGC and its allies, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi PMF, with terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS, it has even described the latter groups as being the lesser of the two evils.
According to sources in Washington, one of the most common complaints made by visiting Israeli officials over the past years was that the U.S. was focusing too much on fighting Sunni Jihadist groups (al-Qaida, ISIS, etc.) and not enough on fighting Iran and its network of allies.
Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren referred to this dynamic in an interview with the Jerusalem Post back in September 2013, where he summed up the Israeli policy regarding Syria. “The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted (President) Bashar Assad to go” he stated, further adding; “we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t back by Iran (al-Qaida affiliates) to the bad guys who were backed by Iran”.
For his part, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon referred to an “axis of evil‘ comprising Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
Yaalon made those remarks during a meeting with former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey in August 2013, underscoring that this “axis of evil” must not emerge victorious in Syria.
Israel may have found in the Trump administration the perfect ally when it comes to the demonization of Iran and the groups it supports.
Hard-core evangelicals like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have a strong ideological affinity for Israel and its anti-Iranian agenda.
During a Senate hearing last April, Pompeo repeated the long-debunked claim that Iran and al-Qaida have cooperated for years. “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaida. Period, full stop,” Pompeo asserted.
Pence, meanwhile, has even gone so far as to claim that Soleimani was involved with 9/11. Following the assassination, Pence tweeted that Soleimani had “assisted in the clandestine travel of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.”
American troops in danger as a result of the Israeli evangelical agenda
With the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandes, Israel and its Christian evangelical allies in Washington appear to have succeeded more than any time before in steering Trump’s foreign policy. Their success, however, may have placed U.S. troops in the region in grave danger.
In a speech commemorating the death of Soleimani and Al-Muhandes, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah warned that retaliation would be aimed at U.S. military assets.
In remarks which brought back the memories of the 1983 attacks on the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Nasrallah suggested that the U.S. military presence in the region would become a target for suicide bombers.
“The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave our region in the past are still here today and in far greater numbers,” Nasrallah asserted.