The surprising and aggressive step America took when it decided to assassinate Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was welcomed enthusiastically in Israel. There was a lot of praise for U.S. President Donald Trump in local television studios this weekend, as well as hope for the return of the era of American greatness in the Middle East – and even, on the margins, dreams of a new regional order in which the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran would be speedily toppled.
But the strategic picture may well be a bit more complicated and dangerous than the rather gleeful tone that occasionally dominated the airwaves.
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 55
Listen: Under Trump, haters don’t need an excuse to attack Jews. Ep. 55
The Trump administration’s regional policy for the last three years hasn’t reflected a consistent line of thinking, but rather flip-flops, experimentation and mistakes. About 18 months ago, Trump quit the Iranian nuclear deal, as he had promised to do during his campaign. Later, he adopted the maximum pressure approach, in which he imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran and on foreign companies that traded with it.
>> Soleimani's mistake and Netanyahu's gain ■ To avert war with Iran, Trump will need all the strong nerves and sophistication he sorely lacks
Yet the desired outcome – an Iranian capitulation to a new nuclear accord with more demanding terms, which might even include restrictions on its regional subversion – wasn’t achieved. On the contrary, ever since May, Tehran has responded with a large-scale campaign of attacks on the oil industry in the Persian Gulf, and sometimes even with attacks on American interests.
For many months, Trump responded with restraint, due mainly to his fears of getting embroiled in a war. Israel was disappointed by this lack of an American response, as evident from recent statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
But last week, the Iranians went too far. The killing of an American citizen in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, followed by a mob storming the American Embassy in Baghdad (in response to an American retaliatory strike that killed 25 Shi’ite militiamen), led to a sharp change in the administration’s position.