Photo Credit: Courtesy Aaron Klein
Aaron Klein

Trump Makes Moves Toward Iran Hardliners In Administration

As the Trump administration strongly considers the possibility of withdrawing from the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran, Israel sent a clear warning to Tehran on Tuesday by officially confirming the IDF was behind the 2007 airstrikes in northeastern Syria that destroyed the country’s nuclear reactor.


The IDF military censor released for publication that Israel’s air force carried out the September 6, 2007 pre-dawn raid on the al-Kibar nuclear site in the Deir Ezzor region of Syria. Israeli intelligence officials had determined that the site was close to becoming operational and its reactor was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. Israel and the U.S. had information that North Korea was providing the technical know-how, even obtaining photos of North Korean nuclear experts inside the site. According to reports, the Bush administration refused to take military action.

The Israeli raid had become one of the worst kept secrets in the Middle East. Mere days after the strikes, the international news media was rife with reports about the specifics of the Israeli attacks, down to the location of the Syrian site and the number of Israeli warplanes that took part in the strike.

Israel formally announcing what everyone already knew can only be viewed as a warning to Iran that the Jewish state will not stand by and allow the country’s nuclear sites to produce weapons.

Obviously, there are major operational differences between destroying one secretive nuclear site in Syria and targeting Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, some of which is reportedly housed at hardened underground sites. Still, the message to Tehran cannot be lost in translation.

“The Israeli government, IDF and Mossad prevented Syria from developing nuclear capabilities,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the confirmation that Israel carried out the raid. “For this they are deserving of all praise. Israel’s policy has been and remains consistent – to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, the confirmation proves that Israel has twice enacted the Begin doctrine, which was first enunciated when Prime Minister Menachem Begin approved Israel’s daring attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. The Begin doctrine calls for Israel to use meticulous planning to preemptively take out an enemies’ ability to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD), especially nuclear weapons. It holds that Israel should act alone and despite international pressure if necessary.

The details of Israel’s intelligence collection efforts leading up to the 2007 raid in Syria must send chills down the spines of Iranian leaders and nuclear scientists. The Mossad reportedly led an intelligence-gathering campaign that resulted in obtaining information from inside the Syrian nuclear site. After suffering numerous suspicious setbacks and failures, Iran must already suspect that Israel possesses the capability to not only collect deep intelligence but also potentially engage in sabotage efforts.

Israel’s announcement of the Syrian raid comes as the U.S. enters a critical juncture regarding the international nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration. Trump hinted that he may bolt the agreement entirely when he told reporters on Tuesday that “the Iran deal is coming up. It’s probably another month or so, and you’re going to see what I do.”

Last October, Trump declined to recertify the deal in line with a law that requires the U.S. president to certify every 90 days that the deal is “vital to the national security interests of the United States.” Instead, he indicated he may entirely bolt the agreement unless European allies get in line with the U.S. “in fixing significant flaws in the deal.” The next deadline is May 12, when Trump will need to decide whether to waive sanctions.

Besides the sanctions timeline, Trump indicated a major realignment of the National Security Council marked by replacing National Security Council Adviser H.R. McMaster, a longtime proponent of the Iran accord, with former UN Ambassador John Bolton, a leading Iran deal critic.

When he came to the NSC, McMaster removed Iran deal opponents in what the Jerusalem Post reported was a possible “sweep of Iran hard-liners.”

Speaking at an event held last year by the Ploughshares Fund, former Secretary of State John Kerry implied that McMaster is the best bet at keeping the nuclear agreement alive, according to a Ploughshares Fund description of the June 5, 2017 event.

Ploughshares is a controversial, George Soros-funded group identified by the Obama White House as central to helping sell the Iran nuclear deal to the public and news media. Ploughshares and Soros’s Open Society Foundations are both donors to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), where McMaster served as consulting senior fellow.

Besides ousting McMaster, Trump already fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replaced him with Iran hardliner and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo.