Trump’s Last Stand in the Middle East—Stirring up last-minute trouble for the Incoming Biden Administration
By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
As with much else that Mr. Trump is up to before he leaves office after losing to Joe Biden, he is breaking eggs in different parts of the Middle East. First is Secretary of State’s Mike Pompeo breaking with tradition by visiting a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank; second is Pompeo’s unprecedented visit to the Golan Heights in Syria; and third, in what can only be labeled as implied knowledge by the administration of the assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist. These are damaging events that will make Biden’s succession to the presidency more difficult than it is already.
Unprecedented Visit by U.S. Secretary of State to Jewish Settlement in the Occupied West Bank and to Golan
U. S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, following the presidential election victory of Joe Biden, visited a winery in a Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. This is the first such visit by a high-level U. S. cabinet member to a settlement. Once there, Mr. Pompeo announced that, henceforth, products made in the occupied West Bank can be labeled as “made in Israel.” According to a CNN.com report, “Pompeo’s West Bank trip would be unthinkable for any other U.S. Secretary of State. But not him.”
Pompeo’s visit to the settlement of Psagot was so uncharacteristic of U.S. diplomacy, that we need to be reminded that his visit is considered illegal under international law. Again, according to CNN, “For any other Secretary of State, this move would have been unprecedented, breaking with decades of US foreign policy and ignoring UN Security Council resolutions. But not from Pompeo, who has been moving American policy in this direction since virtually the beginning of his time as the Trump administration’s top diplomat.”
Of course, the Pompeo State Department has determined that the West Bank settlements are not de facto illegal under international law and that it is up to Israel to determine under its court system the legality of construction on land considered by most of the world as occupied land taken in an act of war. During his visit, Pompeo, standing beside Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, spoke on the issue of the occupied territory, calling it a “simple recognition of this as part of Israel” and “a recognition of the reality.” Now, that is an encouraging legacy to leave his successor, the incoming Secretary of State under the Biden administration.
In a meal Pompeo partook in the settlement village of Psagot, he was served a locally produced wine that the winery named after him. CNN described his visit as “a powerful symbolic gift to Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Israel’s right-wing, and perhaps most importantly for Pompeo, and evangelical Christians.” Indeed, if Pompeo is planning a presidential run in 2024, his visit to Israel is a magnet for the attraction of evangelical support. Indeed, Pompeo’s visit to the winery was encouraged by an evangelical leader from Iowa. We are also reminded that by then, Pompeo had not even publicly acknowledged the defeat of his boss and the victory of Biden.
While Palestinian leaders objected to Pompeo’s visit to a West bank settlement, they were helpless to halt it. Nevertheless, Hanan Ashrawi, PLO Executive Committee member, tweeted that Pompeo was “trespassing on Palestinian land stolen by Israel for its illegal settler-colonial enterprise. You’ve done a lot of damage already. Just go away!”
Pompeo made another, equally provocative visit, this one to the occupied Golan Heights. Syria forcefully condemned that visit, especially since it occurred just as Trump is about to leave office. Again, as in the West Bank case, the visit was a first for a U.S. Secretary of State. Palestinians and some Arab states characterized these dual visits, according to Reuters, as helping to “cement Israeli control over occupied territory.”
Who is behind the assassination of a chief Iranian Nuclear Scientist?
Pompeo’s visit with Netanyahu in Israel may just be coincidental with the subsequent assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist. Iranian high-profile nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated on Friday, November 27 in the north of the country. The attack is characterized as a terror attack. According to Almasdarnews service, there were “serious indications of Israeli responsibility” in the elimination of its eminent nuclear scientist. U.S. officials maintain that Israel engineered the assassination, while other reporting is unclear what part the U.S played in advancing the operation. However, the Pompeo visit with Netanyahu suggests that there may just have been some communication between these two about such an operation to take out an important Iranian official as a way of creating a post-Trump mess for President-elect Biden.
The ambush of Fakhrizadeh was deadly, killing him with an explosive-loaded car, accompanied by several assailants. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to take revenge for the murder of this prominent physicist, and has similarly blamed Israel for his murder. Trump has made no commentary on the assassination, though former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, condemned the killing of the Iranian scientist, calling it “criminal” and “highly reckless.”
Almasdarnews service reported that “Brennan went on Twitter to also urge Iranian officials to ‘address the topic diplomatically.’” In the meantime, “The assassination comes as tensions have yet again spiked between Iran and the Trump administration, with media reports emerging alleging that the Israeli military had been instructed to gear up for a possible US military strike against Iran before the inauguration of a projected president-elect.”
Additional news noted that, prior to the assassination in Iran, Trump had to be dissuaded by his remaining aides from striking a major Iranian nuclear site, Natanz, for fear that it escalate into a broader conflict. And, yes, all of this to be left on the Biden-Harris doorstep as they step into center ring, defined by Covid, a devastated economy, a shattered American civil society, and a broken world order. The Middle East, including Israel, is only one of many eggs that Trump has broken on his way out of office.
“Pompeo’s West Bank trip would be unthinkable for any other U.S. Secretary of State. But Not him,” CNN.com, 11/19/2020
“Syria condemns Pompeo’s visit to ‘occupied’ Golan Heights,” Reuters, 11/19/2020
” US officials allegedly claim Israel is behind assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist,” Almasdarnews, 11/28/2020
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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