Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

Trump threat to Iranian culture is a big mistake

I doubt there are many people who follow the politics of this region from either side of the political spectrum, here in Israel or in the West, who feel that the US drone strike in Baghdad that eliminated Qassam Soleimani this weekend was not justified.

Quite what the consequences of removing Iran’s most influential military figure will be, remains to be seen. Soleimani was a vile, hate-filled man who repeatedly insisted he would obliterate the State of Israel. One of the most dangerous men in the world, he was effectively the director of both the Iranian military and of Iranian-funded Shia terror groups such as Hezbollah, not just across the Middle East, but around the globe. He got what was coming to him.

Indeed, just over four years ago while commanding Iranian Republican Guard Troops in Syria in support of President Assad, he very nearly lost his life when severely injured by shrapnel from a nearby missile strike.

Back in 2015, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported Suleimani as saying that “his fervent wish to be martyred has still not come true.” Well, he had to wait a while, but now it has.

The intelligence behind Donald Trump’s decision to authorize the strike, which he says was taken as a result of an imminent threat to US personnel in the region, has still yet to be revealed – it may never be revealed even if it was there – but it has sent a very clear message to the Iranain leadership with whom the US has long been at loggerheads.

However, virtually all US presidents since 1979 have rightly gone to great lengths to make clear that it is the Iranian government and the firebrand clerics who wield such draconian power from Tehran who are the problem, not the people of Iran themselves, many of whom do not support the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.

While there are undoubtedly millions of conservative Iranians who either support or tolerate the ideals of the Islamic Revolution, there are believed to be many more who would love to free themselves of the restrictions and prejudiced policies under which they have to live their daily lives.

Just as many of the people in Gaza are effectively held hostage by the terrorist Hamas regime, the Iranian people themself are also, to a great extent, held hostage by their own government of religious fanatics.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of taking out Soleimani at this particular juncture – and only time will tell what regional changes it might prompt – Trump’s tweet yesterday in which he threatened to attack targets important to “Iranian culture” was a huge mistake. It was naive, and it was very dangerous.

At a time when the Tehran-based authorities have brutally killed at least 1000 of their own citizens protesting against government policies, and imprisoned a great many more – a sign that the ayatollahs are under increasing internal pressure and opposition is certainly growing – the last thing the US should be doing is targeting the Iranian-Persian culture itself, one of the few things that unites all sides in Iran.

Trump should be limiting his threats to the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people. If a situation develops in the not-too-distant-future when action by the US and its allies takes the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the point that it could possibly fall, having the Iranian opposition on side and the many millions who have supported them from beneath the radar could be essential to enabling the final demise of the Islamic Republic. It could also deal a potentially fatal blow to such as Hezbollah in both Lebanon and Syria, who remain the most immediate threat to Israeli security.

Sadly, Trump doesn’t do nuance or differentiate between the many shades of grey. Like a cartoon character he sees just good guys and bad guys. But in Iran, like everywhere else, there are many, many people in between.

​The president would be wise to withdraw his tweeted threat against the Iranian culture and concentrate his notoriously short attention span on finding as effective a way as possible to limit Iran’s worldwide terror influence and its reinvigorated nuclear ambitions.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly FoxNews.com's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at www.paulalster.com.
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