Israel welcomed US President-elect Donald Trump’s new round of appointments to top administration positions, a source in Jerusalem said Saturday, as a former general known for his anti-Islam rhetoric and a strident opponent of the Iran nuclear deal were tapped for top defense positions.
The source specifically hailed both Rep. Mike Pompeo, the incoming CIA chief, and new national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn as supporters of Israeli policy, according to Army Radio.
Pompeo has been one of the leading critics of last year’s deal with Iran that traded sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback, aligning him with much of the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel communities. He is a reliable backer of Israel and last November had high praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they met on an Israel tour.
Pompeo tweeted on Thursday: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Pompeo had warned last year that the agreement is “empowering an Iranian regime that is intent on destroying America.”
The Kansas Republican backed the House vote this week for a 10-year extension on Iran sanctions, many of which are currently under presidential waiver because of the nuclear deal.
“Extending sanctions on Iran’s weapons programs is an important part of keeping Americans safe,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Re-authorizing existing prohibitions for an additional 10 years provides President-elect Trump and Congress a solid foundation from which to pursue additional action against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
During the election campaign, Trump also described the nuclear deal as “disastrous” and said it would be his “number one priority” to dismantle it.
While Pompeo has expressed saber-rattling views on how to deal with Iran, he also is the single choice Trump made Friday that attracted friendly noises from the establishment — even from Democrats.
“While we’ve had our share of strong differences, I know he’s someone who is willing to listen and engage, both key qualities in CIA Director,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. on Twitter. The Jewish lawmaker is his party’s most senior member on the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, where Pompeo also serves.
Meanwhile, Flynn — a Defense Intelligence Agency chief sacked by President Barack Obama because of his allegations that the agency was in disarray — has been one of Trump’s most incendiary surrogates.
The former general shares Trump’s disdain for nuance in criticizing militancy among Muslims. Unlike the majority of Republicans, who single out “Islamists” or “radical jihadists” or some variation thereof, Flynn emphatically targets the entire faith. In August, he spoke at an event in Dallas hosted by the anti-Islamist group Act for America, calling Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “definitely hides behind being a religion.”
“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one February Tweet now making the rounds.
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
More troubling for Jews, in July, Flynn retweeted a tweet attached to a CNN story in which the Clinton campaign blamed the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee on Russia.
Flynn’s comment attached to the retweet was incendiary but not untypical: “The corrupt Democratic machine will do and say anything to get #NeverHillary into power. This is a new low.”
What was shocking was that the tweeter whom Flynn was approvingly retweeting, “Saint Bibiana,” bearing an icon showing a Confederate soldier, was not just blaming Democrats: “’The USSR is to blame!’” said Saint Bibiana. “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”
Flynn deleted his tweet and apologized.
In security briefings with Trump, Flynn reportedly has alarmed intelligence officials who have blamed cyberattacks on Russia. Flynn has been paid for a speech in Moscow and attended an official dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The closeness of a national security adviser to a regime that has joined Iran in a loose military alliance with the Assad rule in Syria is sure to rattle some in Israel’s security establishment.
“The president-elect would be better served by someone with a healthy skepticism about Russian intentions,” Schiff said in a statement.
Flynn’s consulting firm has also done work for Turkish clients. Flynn said that he would divest himself of the company should he go into government service.
A number of Israeli politicians, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, have seized on Trump’s victory by asking him to make good on his promises to recognize the city as Israel’s undivided capital and move the embassy there, breaking with long-standing US policy to await a final status agreement. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing, pro-settler Jewish Home party, said that Trump’s win was also a chance to end of any possibility of a Palestinian state.