Yesterday, PJ Media published a disturbing report about H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser. It said that at a meeting during the week of August 27 at the White House, McMaster brought with him Mustafa Javed Ali, NSC Senior Director on Counter-Terrorism. According to PJ Media’s report, Ali has been described by a senior administration source as being “opposed to Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization.”
The Israelis reportedly demanded that Ali leave the room. Supposedly, they meant the demand to serve as a message to President Trump that McMaster’s behavior has subverted Trump’s stated Middle East policy.
The report also said that during the meeting, McMaster explicitly dismissed the Israelis’ specific concerns about Hezbollah. In particular, he blew off the concern that the “safe zone” currently being established within Syria would immediately become a safe haven from which Hezbollah could operate. In addition, McMaster reportedly yelled at the Israelis during the meeting.
I have reservations about McMaster, and PJ Media attributed its report to “several administration sources, members of non-governmental organizations involved in national security, and a source within the Israeli government.” However, the idea that McMaster and his main counter-terrorism guy are soft on Hezbollah struck me as dubious. So I checked with Steve Hayward’s friend Michael Anton, who serves as spokesman on McMaster’s staff.
Anton told me that (1) Ali wasn’t at the meeting in question (which occurred on August 17, not the week of August 27, as reported), was never scheduled to be present, and thus was never asked to leave or not attend the meeting, (2) neither McMaster nor Ali has ever questioned Hezbollah’s status as a terrorist organization, (3) McMaster has asked his staff for ideas on how to be more aggressive towards Hezbollah, and (4) the Israelis were going to issue a statement debunking PJ Media’s story.
Anton has also denied that McMaster shouted at the Israelis during the meeting. I should add, though, that doing so would hardly constitute a major offense. Exchanges can become heated, even among friends.
Israel now has denied the substance of the PJ Media report. Here is what Itai Bardov, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Washington, told Jeff Dunetz:
The allegations in the article relating to Israel are totally false.
Israel never asked for Mustafa Ali to not attend a meeting on Hezbollah, Syria or any other matter.
Israel is not aware of any Trump administration official that does not consider Hezbollah a terror organization, and General McMaster never yelled at Israeli officials.
Israel appreciates General McMaster’s efforts to strengthen the US-Israel relationship and looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Trump administration to counter the threats posed by Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah.
In addition, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo has reviewed a copy of the official list of U.S. and Israeli officials participating in the meeting at issue. According to Kredo, the list confirms that Ali was never scheduled to attend. And Dunetz has posted a “team picture” of those who participated in the August 17 meeting. He says Ali is not in the picture.
I have no personal knowledge of who was at the meeting, what transpired, or what McMaster believes about Hezbollah. However, the evidence that Ali wasn’t at the meeting seems quite strong. And, though I’m not a fan of McMaster, I continue very much to doubt that he is soft in any respect on Hezbollah.