Does Trump’s national security team understand the Middle East?

Ken Timmerman talks about the unique challenges facing the US in the Middle East.

Israel News Talk Radio, | updated: 16:45

John Bolton (podium) holds security briefing in White House press briefing room
John Bolton (podium) holds security briefing in White House press briefing room

Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant and Jerry Gordon bring back Ken Timmerman, veteran Iran and Middle east watcher, New York best-selling author of “ISIS Begins”. Timmerman is a renowned investigative journalist with access to the Trump national security team that antedated the current Administration.

In this fast-paced conversation interspersed with banter, we address the conundrum of Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, truculent relations with the US intelligence community over threats from Iran, North Korea and Turkey to the Kurds in Syria and Israel.

We noted the comment of Lenny Ben-David, former high ranking diplomat with the Israeli Embassy in Washington and now with the JCPA, in a recent Jerusalem Post commentary on this issue: “[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton [who both recently met with Netanyahu] see the need for U.S. troops to be in Syria, period”. Timmerman agreed with Ben-David, pointing out Trump’s team will likely maintain the large strategic base at Al-Tanf at the apex of the Iraq, Jordan and Israel borders in Southern Syria to monitor Iran and its Iraqi proxies.

He noted that in the case of Trump’s commitment to maintain US troops in Iraq that even members of the Iran-controlled Hashd Al-Shaabi militias he met with in northern Iraq recently expressed concerns about Iraq’s future with Iran’s deepening presence in the country. In terms of a safe zone for protection of the Syrian Kurds against the threat of control by “Caliph” Erdogan, he said that proposals such as a mixed Arab Iraqi Peshmerga or a French-UK led effort with the Syrian Democratic Forces or possible Syrian Kurdistan National Guard would be acceptable alternatives. We discussed as an example the French G-Force in West Africa fighting the Islamic State in Burkina Faso and Sudan-backed jihadists in Chad, where he had visited as a Paris-based correspondent.

Timmerman noted that the G Force has more troops and supporting air units than US forces in Syria covering five countries in the Sahel region. He scoffed at comments from a Deputy Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander threatening Israel with “annihilation” following an alleged successful test on the 40th Anniversary of Islamic republic of a precision missile capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

He cited Iran’s recent space shuttle launch as to what the regime’s real objective is. While it failed to reach an orbit for a satellite, nevertheless it clearly sent a message that the Islamic Republic was intent on developing an ICBM capable of attacking the US. When the matter of a high member of Iran’s judiciary rejected an EU plan that would finance business while evading US sanctions, Timmerman laughingly said “now the US had an agent in Tehran”. When we brought up attacks on IRGC and Paramilitary Basij bases by ethnic minorities - such as Kurds, Ahwaz Arabs and Balochis – against the Islamic regime, Timmerman made this observation: That fully 55 percent of Iran’s population are non- Persian minorities. That if these groups joined with opposition groups in Tehran and other major centers, it might foster regime change. He suggested that Netanyahu and the Trump national security team understood this as possible leverage.