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Killing Soleimani was in Israel’s interest, ‘not in the American interest’ (says former Obama aide)

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The media consensus is that Trump ordered the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani because the U.S. president was angered by the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last week and because he felt a need to intimidate Iran. CNN and MSNBC are also offering the view that Trump is seeking to pump his popularity in the face of impeachment, or starting a war so he will be reelected.

Israel’s interest in the assassination continues to be my focus. Israel appears to have been a factor in Trump’s decision, beginning with the fact that his largest donor has called for a strike on Iran. As former White House negotiator Aaron David Miller tweeted:

If the Israelis weren’t somehow involved in this, I’d be stunned. Sulrimani’s been on their list for a long time.

The mainstream press keeps sidestepping the Israel angle, surely out of concern for antisemitism. So let’s connect the dots.

Israel is virtually the only country that supported this operation, even the mainstream tells us. On MSNBC yesterday, Kristen Welker stated that American “partners and allies in the region” were against the killing “with the exception of Israel.”

What about the Saudis and Gulf States, often touted as a militant influence over U.S. policy? Opposed. “Even the Gulf States are reacting much more negatively than the Israelis are, because the Gulf states feel like they’re much more likely to absorb the retaliation. It’s been pretty interesting to see them… argue for deescalation. It’s clear they did not think this was a good idea, contrasting to Israel,” says Ilan Goldenberg, formerly of the Obama administration.

The Saudis had been trying to negotiate with Iran in recent months and were “spooked” by the assassination and are urging the Americans to show restraint, Daniel Benaim of the Center for American Progress said on the Brian Lehrer’s WNYC radio show yesterday. Note that the Saudis were not consulted about the assassination ahead of time, though Israel was (contradicting earlier reports).

Goldenberg, who had a long career in the Obama administration, said explicitly yesterday that the strike was “not in the American interest” and was strategically a “major mistake.” Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum asked Goldenberg why in Israel “for the most part this [killing] is being universally cheered,” and why his Israeli counterparts are “calling or texting” to say it was “an unqualified good move” and to wonder why it is “not being universally cheered in the United States.”

Ilan Goldenberg, from the Center for a New American Security

Goldenberg responded by distinguishing between U.S. and Israeli interests:

If you’re sitting in Israel it’s an unqualified good move from an Israeli interest perspective because it’s nice to have this guy off the board especially because it was done entirely by the U.S…. I think Israel basically gets a huge benefit with most likely — I don’t believe that Iran is going to target Israel in its retaliation.

But we are a global superpower. We’re not just about the Middle East. If our priorities were just the Middle East and we had nothing else to worry about, and we thought that it was a good idea to just keep fighting everything out in the Middle East, then I could see [this]. And for a regional player like Israel– sure, like that’s great, you’re going to make the Middle East better. But dragging us into a potential conflict that is going to cost American lives and a lot American resources when we have much bigger problems to worry about like China and Russia and climate change…

We need to stop fighting these wars in the Middle East and getting us sucked into one conflict after another. Iran is a two-bit player in world affairs… So our obsession with them and all the energy we’re spending on them and if we end up in a war with them– it’s just not in the American interest.

Speaking to the same point, Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher explained yesterday why Israeli Jews are thrilled by the killing.

With the exception of Israel’s Arab sector, opinion is near unanimous that Israel is well rid of Soleimani. This is where the Israeli and American perceptions of Soleimani’s activities differ.

Israel perceived Soleimani solely as the mastermind of Iran’s drive to project power westward through Iraq and into the Levant (Syria, Lebanon), where the Quds force and its many proxies, along with Iranian missiles and drones, pose a direct security threat to Israel. Neither Trump nor Obama before him did anything about Soleimani’s activities in the Levant. Indeed, Obama concentrated solely on the nuclear deal and acquiesced in an active Iranian role in the Middle East. Trump went a step further, and has been reducing the US military presence in Syria and threatening to reduce it in Iraq, much to Israel’s dismay.

It is in this context, not that of the US Embassy in Baghdad or of nuclear issues, that Israelis view the removal of Soleimani as a positive move.

Notice that Alpher describes threats that Iran poses to Israel as a regional rival. If you can find an American interest there, let me know– however you characterize such interest, as material, reputational, populist, etc. And by the way, note Alpher’s emphasis on the need for American strength in the region, a cornerstone of American neoconservative beliefs (though Alpher is the go-to security expert for a liberal Zionist organization, Americans for Peace Now).

Neoconservatives — U.S. hawks who are utterly aligned with Israel — are exulting over the killing. Former national security adviser John Bolton calls for regime change to follow the assassination:

Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.

Mark Dubowitz, the ceo of the thinktank that has had a large influence over the White House, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also is pushing regime change:

I’m more confident that I’ve ever been that Trump would use military force to take out the regime in Iran’s nuclear program. I really hope it doesn’t have to come to that.

FDD has been widely quoted in the US media to explain the alleged value of this killing. Eli Clifton of the Quincy Institute has urged journalists to provide context, including the Israel angle:

A couple helpful pieces of context journalists might want to include when quoting FDD experts. 1.) FDD receives one third of its funding from Trump mega donor Bernie Marcus who says “Iran is the devil.” 2.) FDD was founded to “enhance Israel’s image in North America.”

I don’t see many journalists retweeting Clifton’s message, or taking that advice. Though Clifton tweeted an image of a document:

Filing by Foundation for Defense of Democracies stating its goal as to “enhance Israel’s image in North America.” Posted by Eli Clifton of Quincy Institute.

As we noted the other day, Richard Goldberg, an FDD staffer who was on the White House National Security Council and who just returned to FDD– had his salary paid by FDD while he worked for Trump. (Per Bloomberg’s report.) Yousef Munayyer notes the double standard for scandal when it comes to Israel:

I mean can you even imagine the scandal if a Russian linked think tank was paying the salary of an NSC official responsible for Ukraine policy?

The New York Times continues to hold the brief for neoconservatives. Peter Baker of the Times quotes an FDD expert calling the assassination “genius.” An article about Iran declaring that it would not be bound by restrictions on some enrichment from the Iran deal, by David Sanger and William Broad presents American and Israeli interests as utterly conjoint.

Iran’s announcement essentially sounded the death knell of the 2015 nuclear agreement. And it largely re-creates conditions that led Israel and the United States to consider destroying Iran’s facilities a decade ago, again bringing them closer to the potential of open conflict with Tehran that was avoided by the accord…

Now, the United States and Israel must confront the big question: Will they take military or cyberwarfare action to try to cripple those production facilities?

Speaking of coordinated military actions, it should be noted that Israel has been attacking Syria and Iraq in recent months, two countries the U.S. is also attacking. Goldenberg on Syria:

The Israelis have managed to hit 1000 targets inside Syria within the last two years, Iranian targets, without triggering a lot of retaliation. Because they’ve done it quietly, because they’ve done it methodical. They’ve gone out of their way to not kill….to not cause major casualties.

Mustafa Salim of the Washington Post reports the Israeli attacks in Iraq:

“The United States told us that some of the attacks against PMU headquarters in the recent months were conducted by Israel” Iraqi PM said.

The PMU is a state-sponsored militia group.

Finally, let’s return to the Trump donors. Maggie Haberman of the NYT reports on Trump’s days in Florida, leading up to the decision to kill Soleimani. On Sunday Dec. 29, the same day the U.S. had attacked Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq, killing 25, and hours after the stabbings at the rabbi’s house in Monsey

Mr. Trump, from his golf club in West Palm Beach, called one of his oldest acquaintances and major Jewish supporters, the cosmetics billionaire Ronald S. Lauder, to yell that Mr. Lauder should be doing more to “support” him, according to three people briefed on the call.

Mr. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress… listened as Mr. Trump ticked off a litany of administration actions. Mr. Trump said that he had done more for Jews than any other president and that he could still lose the Jewish vote. The president never mentioned campaign contributions, but advisers and others briefed on the call said he left the clear impression that was referring to financial support.

In a statement, Mr. Lauder would say only that he has had “many candid, positive and forward-looking conversations with” Mr. Trump, who “deserves a great deal of support from the Jewish community for his fantastic record on Israel and his proven support of the Jewish people here at home.”

To be continued.

Thanks to Scott Roth, James North and Donald Johnson.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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18 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 7, 2020, 4:28 pm

    Although he may not have comprehended the extent of the consequences, I’m sure that Trump was motivated in large measure to assassinate General Qasem Soleimani in return for multi-billionaire, Zionist zealot, Sheldon Adelson’s assurance that he would once again contribute tens of $millions to the Republicans’ campaign coffers.

    • JWalters on January 7, 2020, 7:38 pm

      There is an interesting and reasonable case that Trump did not order the assassination, but was sandbagged by Pompeo and Esper.
      “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Iranian General’s Intent”

      This reminds me of when Bolton was Trump’s national security advisor and Trump said he would remove troops from Syria. Bolton then flew to Israel, met with Netanyahu, and emerged to announce that Trump would not be withdrawing the troops from Syria after all. Trump later fired Bolton, showing some degree of independence.

      It’s also reminicient of the CIA trying to sandbag JFK into a war with Cuba and Russia, described in David Talbot’s excellent book Brothers. As Col. Fletcher Prouty pointed out, the CIA is an “agency”, meaning it does the bidding of a political authority. A bunch of bureaucrats would not get away with infuriating Senator Feinstein by spying on her Senate intelligence committee, as the CIA did under Brennan.

  2. Donald on January 7, 2020, 4:57 pm

    I agree with most of this— there is an Israeli connection and the press is downplaying it or ignoring it as much as they can.

    But I get the sense you are trying to claim that Israel is the deciding factor and otherwise there would be no American interest in murdering Soleimani because you found someone saying this. I agree with him, but there is no unique definition of American interests. It is a nebulous propaganda concept which is often used to muddy the waters. Americans don’t all have the same interests.

    David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker are both delighted about the assassination— in their minds attacks on American soldiers which they blame on Soleimani were terrorism. Pompeo is apparently a fanatical Christian Zionist. They hate the Iranian government.

    And the American interest there is oil. Even if we don’t need it, we still want to control one of the world’s main sources of the stuff. I’m not sure how much the average American benefits from our empire, but the foreign policy Blob wants to overthrow every government which doesn’t toe the line, unless they are too powerful for us to tackle or have a nuclear deterrent. This blog focuses on Israel, but our lovely political culture also wants to overthrow every person perceived as leftist and populist in Latin America.

    It does appear to be true the Gulf Arab states didn’t want this. The attack on the oil installation a few months ago seems to have cooled their desire for open confrontation with Iran, but then, Netanyahu also claimed the assassination had nothing to do with Israel. They all want the US to do their fighting against Iran and none of them want to be a target for retaliation.

    • Donald on January 7, 2020, 5:26 pm

      There’s also just a plain old financial interest in supporting war. Adam Johnson’s twitter feed has examples. Here is one. Hadley wrote a piece supporting the drone strike for the Washington Post. He also works for the company that made the drone.

      Is this a great country or what?

    • Donald on January 8, 2020, 8:14 am

      An argument for why our interest is about oil.

      I think it is about both Israel and oil. In the mainstream propaganda media you aren’t supposed to say either. You are supposed to say it is because Iran is a bad actor and a threat to stability.

    • Misterioso on January 8, 2020, 11:04 am

      @Donald, et al

      As is common knowledge, Netanyahu is up to his ears in this mess and is still denying complicity. It does not bode well for his relationship with Trump.

      “Ridiculous: Netanyahu, the architect of the war against Iran pretends he has nothing to do with it!” Defend Democracy Press, January 7/2020, by Helen Buyniski

      “Netanyahu backs away from Soleimani assassination, warns ministers to ‘stay out’ of purely ‘American event.’”

      “Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly warned his cabinet not to get too involved in the US murder of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, lest Tel Aviv gets dragged into the escalating conflict between Washington and Tehran.

      “’The assassination of Soleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it,’ Netanyahu reportedly told his security cabinet during a meeting on Monday, as cited by Israel’s Channel 13. He advised ministers to avoid speaking to the media about Thursday’s targeted assassination beyond supporting the US’ right to defend itself, so as not to give the impression that Israel had played any role in it.

      “The directors of Mossad and military intelligence reassured the ministers that the likelihood of a retaliatory attack is low, since ‘Israel stayed at a distance from the incident,’ and that Iran will begin planning its reciprocal move on Tuesday following the conclusion of the national mourning period for Soleimani, according to the same sources.

      “Netanyahu’s sudden reticence is particularly notable because he has been advocating a US-Iran conflict for much of his political career. For over 20 years, he has insisted that the Islamic Republic was just steps away from producing nuclear weapons, even when Israeli intelligence publicly argued otherwise.

      “The Israeli PM was also front and center in the run-up to the most recent Iraq War, warning the US Congress in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – including pursuing atomic bombs – which turned out not to exist at all.

      “Just last year, Netanyahu was urging the US and its Middle Eastern allies to take up the cause of war against Iran, emboldened by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose crippling sanctions against Tehran, despite its compliance with the agreement.

      “Netanyahu’s sudden reticence is particularly notable because he has been advocating a US-Iran conflict for much of his political career. For over 20 years, he has insisted that the Islamic Republic was just steps away from producing nuclear weapons, even when Israeli intelligence publicly argued otherwise.

      “The Israeli PM was also front and center in the run-up to the most recent Iraq War, warning the US Congress in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – including pursuing atomic bombs – which turned out not to exist at all.

      “Just last year, Netanyahu was urging the US and its Middle Eastern allies to take up the cause of war against Iran, emboldened by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose crippling sanctions against Tehran, despite its compliance with the agreement.”

  3. Keith on January 7, 2020, 5:39 pm

    PHIL- “Israel’s interest in the assassination continues to be my focus.”

    No doubt that Israel played a part, however, this act is consistent with imperial objectives. The empire is at war with Iran, Russia and China. Currently, it is mostly a soft power war involving sanctions, propaganda and proxies. We are at the end of the hydrocarbon era and time is of the essence if empire is to achieve hegemony and guide the planet into a form of corporate neofeudalism. Time to heat things up. Below I quote an opinion piece from Lisa Monaco, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama. “Qassem Soleimani was pure evil…. A terrorist mastermind is dead, and for that we should be grateful.” (The Seattle Times, 1/7/2020) This is pre-war propaganda from a high ranking member (Democrat)of the Obama administration. To me, this suggests bipartisan (and Deep State) support for provoking direct military violence even if it means a major war.

    As a counterpoint, below I link to a 3 minute campaign video on this very topic from the invisible Democratic candidate for President.

  4. wondering jew on January 7, 2020, 6:20 pm

    Trump is a gambler. Netanyahu said, “Bet on 7”. Trump is betting on “7”. It is the American people (or the electoral college) that gave the dice to Mr. Trump and he is in charge. I doubt that an extra few billion will win this election of 2020 if this assassination goes south and I doubt that Trump is doing it for campaign funds. He’s a gambler.

    • eljay on January 7, 2020, 6:43 pm

      || wondering jew: Trump is a gambler. Netanyahu said, “Bet on 7”. Trump is betting on “7”. … ||

      Trump is a loyal Zionist. His king said, “Jump!”. Trump said, “How high?”

      • eljay on January 7, 2020, 8:18 pm

        || eljay: … Trump is a loyal Zionist. … ||

        I was joking, of course. Trump is loyal to his ego and his pocketbook. When they stop being sufficiently stroked by Zionists and by pro-Israel benjamins, he’ll turn on Israel, he’ll turn on Zionism and Zionists and – thanks to the diligent and anti-Semitic work of Zionists – he’ll turn on Jews.

    • Misterioso on January 7, 2020, 7:28 pm

      @wondering jew

      It is patently obvious that Sheldon Adelson pulls Trump’s strings. He even has use of a private line to the White House giving him instant access to Trump at all hours.

      Yes, Trump is a “gambler.” However, it didn’t matter when he was a real estate huckster (and went bankrupt five times.) Now, however, the immoral “moron in chief” is gambling with the fate of millions of people.

    • MHughes976 on January 8, 2020, 6:16 am

      There’s truth in what you say, Yonah, in that Trump needs to be able to present all this as a success. If he is clearly responsible for a disaster then Adelson won’t be able to help him. Trump must know this and he must have taken it into account when he chose to emphasise his personal responsibility. His gamble is on there not being a disaster. There’s no serious indication that he was acting against his better judgement. He doesn’t have a crisis or even a difficulty in raising funds at the moment – I noticed a Washington Post article saying that Democrats should be scared of his success so far.
      The Iranian retaliation has begun, I see. The BBC defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says it’s ‘relatively modest’ but we’ll see what the casualty figures say.
      The truth in what Phil says is surely that everything in the ME is conditioned by Israel’s presence and the reaction against it. Everything would be different without it. And everything would be different without the highly visible, swaggering Israeli lobby in the West.

  5. Mooser on January 7, 2020, 7:24 pm

    At this point Netanyahoo is saying Israel had nothing to do with it:

    . … “The assassination of Soleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event.”

    • oldgeezer on January 7, 2020, 11:41 pm


      You left out the part where he said we should not be dragged into being involved.

      That’s the position of the US’ best ally. Those with shared values. Those who US taxpayers subsidize even though Israelis get benefits US citiens can’t avail of.

      Trouble? Not we stand with you but not us. We have nothing to do with this and we won’t stand with you.

      Israel is not and has never been an ally of any sort for any Western nation.

  6. Tuyzentfloot on January 8, 2020, 8:35 am

    I noticed the mention of the FDD and the Quincy institute.
    FDD are neocons so prowar, pro regime change, pro military industrial complex.
    I don’t know what to think about Quincy. It has libertarian Koch support which means antiwar and neoliberal. Libertarians can go either way on soft regime change. And it has Soros support which is also antiwar , very in favor of ‘soft’ regime change, and freemarket but not neoliberal.

  7. Elizabeth Block on January 8, 2020, 11:20 am

    “With the exception of Israel’s Arab sector, opinion is near unanimous” – the “Arab sector” is, of course, 20% of the population. And this way of describing Israeli opinion is a cowardly way of saying “Israeli Jews.”

    I’ve read that Trump consulted with Israelis, but not with the US Congress, before he did this. Why am I not surprised?

  8. Brewer on January 8, 2020, 1:38 pm

    A top U.S. intel source sent me this analysis in response to a detailed question:
    “It is most unlikely Trump will escalate at this point, and this could provide him with the opportunity to leave the Middle East except for the Gulf States. Trump wants to get out. The fact that Israel would be hit next by Iran [as promised, among others, by the IRGC as well as Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah] will probably cause them to pull back, and not order Trump to bomb Iran itself.
    “DEBKA-Mossad acknowledged that Iran’s offensive missiles cannot be defended against. Its secret is that it hugs the ground going underneath the radar screens.” [the source is referring to the Hoveizeh cruise missile, with a
    range of 1,350 km, already tested by Tehran.]
    “What is amazing is that Iraq has allowed US troops into their country at all after seeing over a million of their people murdered by the US if we include the 500,000 dead children [during the 1990s, as acknowledged by
    Madeleine Albright]. The royals in the U. A. E. told me that this is because Iraq is more corrupt that Nigeria.
    “The key question here is what happened to the Patriot Missile Defense for these bases who were on high alert assuming this is not similar to Trump’s missiles hitting empty buildings in Syria after the chemical false flag operation. I saw no report that any defense missile was working, which to me is very significant.”

  9. CigarGod on January 9, 2020, 12:29 pm

    Goldenberg: “…nice to have this guy off the board especially because it was done entirely by the U.S…”

    So he says.
    We still don’t know who provided the intelligence, do we?

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