WASHINGTON – The man set to be Donald Trump’s first secretary of defense believes three great forces are preventing stability in the Middle East: Iran, Iran and Iran.As head of Central Command, general James Mattis considered the Islamic Republic the focal point of his area of responsibility.He describes waking up every morning to new challenges, and seeing firsthand a concerted campaign of Iranian power projection region wide.
He was a subtle critic of the nuclear deal reached with Iran last year, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which sought to cap Tehran’s nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief. The deal, he said, achieves several of Washington’s shortterm goals.“It came down to two options,” Mattis described. “There was the military option – probably could’ve delayed them for a year or two before we would’ve had to take additional military action – or there was the diplomatic option, where they were aiming to delay it much longer.”His issue – in line with much of Washington’s national security establishment – is what happens after many of the JCPOA’s restrictions begin to lift, beginning in roughly nine years.Mattis fears Iran will be legitimized as a nuclear-threshold state.The Obama administration has long said that the JCPOA is exclusively a nuclear deal, and nothing more – Washington is allowed to continue sanctioning Iran for its “malign activity” across the Middle East.But while the outgoing president has been reticent to do so fearing such action will fray burgeoning relations with Tehran, President-elect Trump is unlikely to harbor similar inhibitions.Trump’s growing national security team – including Mattis, as well as incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn – likely will encourage tough action against Iran for its continued ballistic missile activity and its continued funding of militant proxy organizations.The greatest question for the incoming administration is how they form a cohesive policy on Syria, which Trump views as a mess America should avoid.Iran’s involvement in the war there is central to its greater vision of a Shi’ite crescent running through the Middle East from Tehran to the Mediterranean.Speaking before a gala of policy experts at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, Israel’s defense minister on Friday night was careful in encouraging Trump to act against Iran.“We need to be very, very tough with Iran on all issues,” said Avigdor Liberman. “The Iranians are trying to destabilize the entire Middle East. It’s crucial to move forward with more sanctions.”
Iran Foreign Minister Zarif hopes nuclear deal is kept once the dust settles