If the Iranians retaliate, giving Mr. Trump a pretext to launch a return strike before he leaves office in January, Mr. Biden will be inheriting bigger problems than just the wreckage of a five-year-old diplomatic document.
Both those options seem fine with Mr. Trump’s departing foreign policy team, which is trying to lock in the radical reversal of Iran policy that has taken place over the past four years.
“The Trump administration’s goal seems plain,” said Robert Malley, who leads the International Crisis Group and was a negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.The administration’s plan, he said, was “to take advantage of the time remaining before it heads to the exits to solidify its legacy and make it all the more difficult for its successor to resume diplomacy with Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal.”Mr. Malley expressed doubts that “it will in fact succeed in killing diplomacy” or the deal.
By forcing the incoming Biden administration to confront issues ranging from settlements to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and to a possible open conflict with Iran, Pompeo, blessed by Trump’s typical indifference, is placing “a series of political impediments” for his successor, said Susskind. Some of them may prove thorny down the road; others will demand his attention on day one. (Representative Rashida Tlaib has already asked Blinken to address Pompeo’s attempted suppression of the BDS movement, a protected First Amendment activity that conservatives have nonetheless sought to limit.)
Pompeo’s most important stop on his recent diplomatic tour was in Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he drank wine made in a settlement, offered succor to Israel’s right wing, and issued proclamations muddling the definitions of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Haaretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper, called it a “grotesque farewell party.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to issue a statement imploring the United States not to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew and which Biden seems likely to attempt to rejoin.
Not long after his Israel visit, Pompeo reportedly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Netanyahu, and the head of Israel’s Mossad spy service, in Noem, a futuristic planned city being built in the Saudi desert. The principal subject was almost certainly Iran and how far the not-so-secret allies could go in their clandestine campaign of industrial sabotage and cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities before crossing some unstated Biden red line.
Two possible motives stand out: firstly, to jeopardise potential improvements in relations between Iran and the new Biden administration in the United States. And, secondly, to encourage Iran to engage in a retaliatory act.
“The enemies are experiencing stressful weeks,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in his first remarks on the assassination. “They are mindful that the global situation is changing, and are trying to make the most of these days to create unstable conditions in the region,” he added. When Mr Rouhani refers to Iran’s “enemies”, he is evidently talking about the Trump administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are worried about the changing tide of politics in the Middle East and its consequences for them once President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Mr Biden made it clear during his election campaign that he wished to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, which was negotiated by Barack Obama in 2015 and forsaken by Donald Trump in 2018.