The day after two US drones fired missiles that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, President Trump gave a press conference where he explained his action by saying: “We took action last night to stop a war. We do not take action to start a war.”
To what war was Trump referring?
In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, Trump’s ‘America First’ policy spooked the Israelis because it reeked of isolationism and possible divestment from the Middle East. As everyone (or at least everyone in Israel) ‘knows’, if the US left the Middle East, Israel would soon be ‘overrun by Muslim hordes’ and left with little option but to use its ‘Samson Option‘ and take as many of its Arab ‘enemies’ down with it.
These fears were assuaged, to some extent, by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal, turn the sanction screws on Tehran, and move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Of course, these favors to Israel were, to a large extent, purchased in advance by way of a $25 million Trump campaign donation (the largest donor to any campaign in 2016) by Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. After Trump’s election win, Adelson gave another $5 million to his inauguration, the largest single presidential inaugural donation ever made. According to US politician Newt Gingrich, Adelson’s “central value” is Israel, and given that in 2013 Adelson said that the US “should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran”, I’m inclined to believe Gingrich.
But Israeli pathological fears of abandonment by the goyim are deeply entrenched and impossible to dispel, and no doubt were reawakened by a November 2018 interview that Trump gave to the Washington Post. When Trump was asked about whether sanctions should be imposed on Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he responded: [emphasis mine]
“I just feel that it’s very, very important to maintain that relationship [with Riyadh]. It’s very important to have Saudi Arabia as an ally, if we’re going to stay in that part of the world. Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world?One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason, because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.”
The 2003 invasion and destruction of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein was a plot hatched by US/Israeli Neocons to do away, once and for all, with (among other things) Ba’athism, an ideology that sought to unite several Middle Eastern nations under [nominally] secular, socialist pan-Arabism (a serious threat to Israel). While the chaos spread by the US invasion and occupation achieved that goal, it also opened the way for Iran to increase its influence among Iraq’s Shia Muslims – who constitute 65% of that country’s population – and who had been held in check by Saddam, a Sunni Muslim (Iran is 90% Shia). Over the last 10 years, this growing Iranian influence has led to increasingly strident calls from Israel for ‘something to be done’ about Iran.
In the last year we have seen repeated Israeli airstrikes on what are labeled ‘Iranian military targets’ across the Levant, including several Israeli airstrikes on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, multiple coordinated attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf – which, though initially blamed on Iran, did not provoke a war because regional investigations ‘proved inconclusive’ – and what was likely an Israeli false-flag operation targeting major Saudi oil refineries (also tepidly blamed on Iran).
The primary reason for Israel’s increasing anxiety about Iran is the significant progress that Iran has made in forming political and military alliances inside Iraq (a direct result of the Israel-inspired destruction of the country by the US) and across the wider region, and the fact that it is today the only country in the region with the human and military resources (and intent) to pose a threat to the Jewish state’s desire for regional hegemony.
Recently released diplomatic cables dating from 2014-15 detail the extent of Iran’s influence inside the Iraqi government, showing how Iranian intelligence officers have co-opted much of the Iraqi government’s cabinet, infiltrated its military leadership, and even tapped into a network of sources once run by the CIA. In the 4-5 years since then, Iranian influence has only grown and, from an Israeli perspective, reached a ‘red line’ point where Iraq could be used as a staging ground for attacks on Israel.
Given this, and Trump’s talk of there being “less and less reason” for the US to remain in the Middle East combined with the upcoming Iraqi parliament vote to officially demand the removal of US forces from the country, it’s likely that the killing of Soleimani was a negotiated (by Trump) alternative to a relatively imminent, large-scale Israeli attack on Iranian assets in Iraq, and possibly Iran itself. Such an attack would have sparked a real war between Israel and Iran, which would inevitably have drawn in the US. This is, I propose, what Trump meant when he said that “we took action last night to stop a war.”
In this scenario, public statements made by Trump administration officials that killing Soleimani was necessary to stop “significant strikes against Americans” in the region can be understood as necessary lies to cover up the truth: that rather than protecting its own immediate interests, the US government was acting to prevent Israel from doing something dangerously irrational that would threaten the lives of millions in the Middle East and beyond.
What US officials privately told their Iranian counterparts soon after the assassination fits this scenario. Rear-Admiral Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, told Iranian state television that “the Americans resorted to diplomatic measures” the very next morning. Fadavi said Washington asked Tehran to respond “in proportion.” They “even said that,if you want to get revenge, get revenge in proportion to what we did” which makes the entire situation seem like something of a sordid geopolitical game. This evening, rockets were fired at the US ‘green zone’ in Baghdad. Perhaps that is Tehran’s proportionate response.
Then again, it’s possible that there is more than mere geopolitical pragmatism motivating certain members of the Trump administration…