According to a report from The Daily Beast, President Trump has given his most hawkish advisors free rein to squeeze Iran as much as possible in the final weeks of his administration. The story cites multiple anonymous US officials who say Trump’s only condition was that his aides do not risk starting “World War III.”
The report reads: “Trump has given some of his most hawkish administration officials, particularly his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, carte blanche to squeeze and punish the Islamic Republic as aggressively as they wish in the coming weeks.”
The officials say Trump has been more passive in overseeing Iran policy and point to Pompeo and Iran envoy Elliot Abrams as the two advisors heading the last-ditch effort to hammer the Islamic Republic. The officials say both Pompeo and Abrams are in favor of quietly backing covert actions carried out by other actors. One official said CIA Director Gina Haspel has been “intimately involved” in the administration’s clandestine strategy against Iran.
The Daily Beast report comes just days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist, was killed in an attack that has been attributed to Israel. US officials confirmed with the Beast that Israel was behind the assassination.
According to the officials, Trump repeatedly said he wanted to avoid a confrontation with Iran that would get US troops killed. But the president said he was fine with letting Israel take the lead to target and kill Iranian officials. One official noted that the US often shares intelligence with Israel on “Iran-related matters,” but did not detail Washington’s involvement in Fakhrizadeh’s death.
In November, The New York Times reported that Trump reviewed options to attack an Iranian nuclear site at an Oval Office meeting but was talked out of pulling the trigger. Officials left the meeting assuming a direct military strike was off the table but said the president left other options open.
Besides killing Iranian officials and doing as much damage as possible to Iran’s economy, another aspect of this strategy is to sabotage Joe Biden’s plans to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Last week, Abrams said the Trump administration plans to slap new sanctions on Iran every week until Biden is inaugurated on January 20th. Abrams said it would be “foolish” for a Biden administration to lift sanctions. Israel and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain also hope Biden does not return to the JCPOA.