Donald Trump's message to Iran this week was loud and clear: Don't test me.
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
There is a stark difference between how the world’s premier power, the United States, and a strong intelligence agency from a regional power, like the Mossad, do business. Thursday’s assassination of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is a case in point.It’s not that the CIA never carries out clandestine assassinations – it does.And it’s not that Israel never blows up its adversaries in places like Syria – occasionally it does.But Israel prefers to act under the radar, often using the Mossad to take out terrorist masterminds or weapons scientists without leaving a trace.In fact, the most common sign of alleged Mossad assassinations of terrorists in recent years, from Malaysia to Tunisia, has been the high level of professionalism and complete absence of any footprints – to the extent that observers doubt that almost anyone but the Mossad could be that clandestine.The Mossad’s modus operandi is to take out one person at a time, usually in a less public area, making the killing as low profile as possible.Sometimes, reports of an alleged Mossad assassination take time to even creep into the media, because other than unexpectedly finding a dead terrorist’s body, there is no indication of what happened and when.This was not the goal of the Trump administration on Thursday when it targeted Soleimani in as public a place as possible, with large casualties to his troops and flamboyant flare.Whereas Israeli officials do not even comment on Mossad operations, Trump tweeted an American flag as the Pentagon broke the news to make sure he took credit for the attack.The Trump administration wanted to remind Iran in the most public and heavy-handed way that the US is the world’s premier power, and that the Islamic Republic, even with all of its proxies and tricks, is comparatively a lightweight.Trump’s decision to eliminate Soleimani publicly in Baghdad International Airport could have a decisive impact on the US presence in Iraq.While Trump likely would prefer to maintain the freedom of US forces to be stationed in bases there, his message here was that – bases or no bases – America will hit Iran, and it will hit it hard, if it strikes at US forces.This does not mean that Israel can also count on the US to defend Israeli interests.It especially does not mean that the US will use force against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Iran can still escalate against the US in other ways. Trump may still back down at some point down the road.But his message to Iran on Thursday night was loud and clear: Don’t test me.He may be in an election year and therefore may not want to get dragged into a war in the Middle East, but if Iran tries to embarrass him by hitting US troops, he is stating loudly that there will be a price to pay – and it may be much higher than anyone expected.The Mossad might have played a part in assisting the US with tracking Soleimani, though that has not been revealed, but the decision to strike him down in such a brazen fashion has Trump written all over it.Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein each previously misjudged the US as being weak and unwilling to get into a bloody fight due to its post-Vietnam aversion-to-war syndrome. But they pushed too far, and their lives were ended as a result.There is no question that Trump’s preference is to avoid the use of force. But as the assassination shows, Iran would do well to remember that the US is the world’s global superpower – and that pushing it too far is unwise and dangerous.