On the eve of Israeli’s parliamentary election, U.S. President Donald Trump gave incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line conservative Likud brethren a “win” by classifying the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s armed forces, as a terrorist organization.
AP: Israel’s prime minister is thanking President Donald Trump for recognizing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Benjamin Netanyahu says the designation “serves the interests of our countries and of countries in the region.”
Netanyahu, who seeks reelection on Tuesday in Israel’s parliamentary elections, wrote on Twitter in Hebrew on Monday following the announcement that Trump was “answering another of my important requests.”
The U.S.’ designation is an unprecedented step that could have widespread implications for U.S. personnel and policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, the Associated Press reports. It’s the first such designation by any American administration of an entire foreign government entity and comes with sanctions, including freezes on some assets.
Within hours Monday, Tehran responded by designating U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and all its forces as terrorist and labeled the U.S. as a “supporter of terrorism,” AP reports.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he wants to add to the country’s “terrorist groups” list all Middle East-based U.S. military forces, and he speculated on Twitter that Trump’s move was aimed at securing the re-election of Netanyahu on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
Indeed, there was no other apparent catalyst for this unprecedented move that further escalates tension between Washington, D.C. and Tehran.
Israeli Election Day
Netanyahu is in a tight race today for his fifth term in office as he faces possible indictments in three corruption cases, including one charge of bribery. His right-wing contender, retired Israeli Gen. Benny Gantz, has been successfully selling himself and his party all over Israel as centrist-right and the “only hope for democracy.”
JTA: A poll by Hadashot 13 found Netanyahu and Gantz tied, at 42 percent each, for most preferred prime minister and that his newly formed Israel Resilience party would pick up 24 seats, more than double recent estimates and just six seats behind Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Gantz drew praise from large parts of the Israeli media. Political commentators including Reshet’s Barak Raviv and Hadashot’s Amnon Abramovitch compared him to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn wrote that “for the first time in a decade, the opposition has someone with authority and military experience, and Gantz’s speech showed he can lead the anti-Netanyahu camp.”
To help Netanyahu edge out his competition, Trump on March 25 formally recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. Netanyahu attended the signing ceremony at the White House.
The move prompted sharp criticism from Syrian leaders, as well as Middle Eastern countries and organizations, including Britain, Germany, France, the European Union, Turkey, Egypt, the Arab League and Russia, all of which have long classified the territory as “Israeli occupied.”
NPR: “Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Netanyahu said, enumerating several instances in which the administration has delivered on campaign promises favoring the Israeli leader, including U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, restoration of sanctions on that country and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital leading to the relocation of American embassy there.
Netanyahu’s final election coup de grâce demonstration of his aggression and Israeli supremacy occurred upon his return to Tel Aviv from Washington, D.C. On Saturday, he visited Israeli television stations for interviews, during which he offered Israeli voters something new: the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Will Trump back this move, too? Probably. Another important question: What’s the line between influencing and election and interfering with an election? Could Trump’s foreign policy actions during the last couple of weeks to influence the Israeli election be considered election interference? We think so.
Quid Pro Quo
The timing of Trump’s recent foreign policy decisions in concert with the Israeli election shows his willingness to sacrifice America’s security and stability to help facilitate the reelection of a “potentially corrupt” prime minister. Undoubtedly, he will want his favors returned, because this isn’t just about Bibi.
Since taking office two years ago, Trump has done more than any other American president in modern history to woo Jews, even while those within his own administration and social circle betrayed him.
The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party. Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal! @OANN @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Nonetheless, Jewish voters continue to lean left — and are arguably pressuring centrist-liberal Democrats toward the Marxist-leftist fringe.
TIME: In the November 2018 midterms, for example, 79% of Jewish voters backed Democratic candidates for Congress, according to Pew Research Center. This was slightly below 2006 levels but an increase from the 2014 midterms.
On the presidential front, Jewish voters have overwhelmingly supported Democrats for decades: Al Gore won 79% of Jewish voters in 2000, John Kerry won 74% in 2004, Barack Obama won 78% in 2008 and 69% in 2012, and Hillary Clinton won 71% in 2016.
Trump’s 2020 election strategy is already committed to spending heavily on courting Jewish-American voters. Although Jews represent only around 4 percent of the electorate, Jewish donors contribute 25 percent of Republican Party funds and 50 percent of Democrat Party funds. Yes indeed, follow the Benjamins.
POLITICO: Spearheading the push is the Republican Jewish Coalition, which receives substantial funding from casino mogul and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. On Friday morning, the group’s board members — many of them prominent Republican Party donors — gathered in a conference room at Adelson’s Venetian resort, where they were briefed on plans for a $10 million-plus blitz geared toward attracting Jewish support for President Donald Trump. The investment, people familiar with the early discussions said, will far surpass what the group spent in past presidential elections. …
The administration is all-in on the strategy. On Saturday, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and three White House officials — Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and Avi Berkowitz — all made pilgrimages to the Venetian, where RJC members were gathered for the third day of their annual spring conference. Before a sea of supporters waving “We are Jews for Trump” signs, the president accused Democrats of opposing Israel and “advancing by far the most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history.”