President Donald Trump may only have seven weeks in office, but he has given his best advisers the green light to overthrow the Iranian regime – anything that does not threaten a full-blown war before Joe Biden is discovered.
According to many US officials familiar with the matter, in recent weeks Trump has taken a more passive role in the personal oversight of Iran’s policy for the critical recent months leading up to his inauguration. Last week, a White House spokesman described Trump as largely “scrutinized” on this key foreign policy issue after being absorbed in his harsh legal efforts to steal the 2020 election amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as other complaints. of your pets right now.
But Trump has given some of his most hawkish officials in the administration, especially his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, carte blanche to squeeze and punish the Islamic Republic as aggressively as they want in the coming weeks. All Trump asks is that they don̵
This left many options available to the outgoing administration, including a stifling sanctions regime and a studied silence in the face of the killing of Iranian citizens. Two officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the administration would announce new sanctions against regime-related companies and individuals in the coming weeks to bolster long-standing efforts to paralyze Tehran’s economy.
Well-known sources say the actions are intended to help fulfill a long-held desire by various Trump officials to make it difficult for the Democratic president-elect to resume talks with Tehran and resume a nuclear deal. And this is a scenario that Biden’s lieutenants and allies have been preparing for a long time, having already included in their strategy for Iran that current US officials will do almost anything to undermine the revival of Obama-era relations between rival states. .
Trump officials who spoke to The Daily Beast often cited Pompeo and Elliott Abrams, Iran’s special envoy, as leaders of the administration’s latest attempt to push the regime.
Secretary Pompeo was particularly advanced in the administration’s efforts to harm the Iranian government. During his recent trip to the Middle East, Pompeo met with leaders from Israel, the UAE and Bahrain on ways in which all three countries can work together to counter the Islamic Republic. The trip followed a State Department announcement that it had recently approved a massive sale of F-35 aircraft to the UAE. The deal is widely seen as a way to get Dubai to cooperate with Jerusalem to deter Iran. And on Friday, Pompeo announced additional sanctions related to Iran, this time targeting Chinese and Russian entities for the transfer of sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program.
Both Pompeo and Abrams, officials say, support harsh measures, including tacit support for covert actions by other actors. Another senior administration official, Gina Haspel, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said she was closely involved in the administration’s covert strategy with regard to Iran.
The president has repeatedly told his advisers that one of his priorities is to avoid a confrontation with Iran that would kill the US military. But it is convenient for Trump to let Israel take the lead in targeting or even killing figures of the Iranian regime in the last weeks of his presidency, officials said. This includes Mohsen Fahrizade, the country’s best nuclear scientist, who was killed on November 27 while traveling in a convoy in the north of the country.
Two senior officials in the Trump administration said Israel was behind the attack, confirming global suspicions. One of the same officials, while not detailing the level of US involvement, noted that US intelligence agencies often share information with Israel on Iran-related issues.
“The Israelis understand that between now and January 20 they will have to inflict maximum damage on [Iranian] There is obviously a close working relationship between Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and [CIA director Gina] Reel.”
– Mark Dubowitz Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
“Obviously there is a close working relationship between Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Haspel,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a right-leaning think tank that advises the Trump administration on Iran.
Some of the president’s confidants are urging him not to pay much attention to the assassination. The administration has chosen to remain largely engrossed in the death of the scientist. A source close to Trump said that in the last few days they had advised the president to avoid gratuitous tweets about the assassination. According to this source, this would not only be a “bad eye”, but would probably undermine the administration’s public position to keep the operation at arm’s length, if not farther.
The two senior administration officials said discussions to take more proactive measures to curb the Biden administration in negotiating a new deal with Iran have escalated this summer and coincided with several covert Israeli operations, including the assassination of the deputy leader. Al Qaeda’s Abu Mohammed in Iran and Israel planted a bomb in one of Iran’s centrifuges.
“The Israelis understand that from now until January 20, they will have to inflict maximum damage on the regime,” Dabovitz said.
Trump’s strategy for the next few weeks is clear, said a senior administration official: Continue to use sanctions as a deterrent while providing intelligence to regional allies such as Israel, which have a common goal of harming the Iranian regime.
This plan is not so different from the one the Trump administration has implemented over the past four years. Since Trump took office in 2017, a cohort of senior officials, advisers and outside advocacy groups have helped create and implement a campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which has relied primarily on more than 1,000 sanctions against regime-related officials. and companies, while covertly targeting Tehran’s assets abroad.
The only difference now, officials say, is that the administration not only wants to punish Iran, but also wants to enlist President-elect Biden.
Those involved in shaping the Trump administration’s policy on Iran believe that the maximum pressure campaign will limit Biden’s ability to get back on track with Tehran, precisely because some of the sanctions may be difficult to lift, especially those focused on human rights and terrorism. Dubovitz and Trump officials familiar with Iranian sanctions say multinational corporations may be so reluctant to do business with Iran now, after thousands of financial indications, that even if Biden lifts sanctions, they will not engage in normal trade. with Tehran.
People familiar with Biden’s thinking say the president-elect has a clear strategy for working with Iran, and sanctions come in January. That plan relies heavily on Biden’s desire to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration – if Iran returns in line.
“If Iran takes the bait, that is obviously the intention [the Farikhzadeh assassination]then that probably makes it impossible to return to JCPOA and diplomacy, “said Jarrett Blanc, a former Obama State Department nuclear coordinator for Iran. “If Iran doesn’t take the bait … I don’t know that really changes the choice Biden’s team or Iran face in January.”
All negotiations between the Biden administration and Iran will include talks to lift some sanctions, said two people familiar with Biden’s team’s thinking about Iran. But those sanctions are likely to be lifted only if and when Tehran abides by the agreement.
“Iran says it is ready to return to compliance and reverse some of the decisions taken. And the United States says it will lift some of the sanctions. [There’s] there is no legal prohibition on their conversion. Many of them were imposed for political reasons, “said a former senior Obama administration official. “It will probably be a two-step approach for Biden – to come back and then renegotiate another, better deal.”