It happened in January 2017 [updated with message from Bret Stephens]

Bret Stephens is a proud NeverTrumper; he supported Hillary Clinton for president and still wishes she had won the election. In his informative column on the war fought by the Israel Defense Forces against Iranian elements including Hezbollah and the Quds Force in “the campaign between the wars,” however, we can find a hidden message that belies his NeverTrumpism. Analyze this:

By 2016, [just-retired IDF chief of staff Gadi] Eisenkot estimates, [Iran’s elite Quds Force commander Qassim] Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.

In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.

Stephens’s column celebrates “the campaign between the wars.” The key date Stephen ascribes to the campaign is January 2017. An astute reader might note that something else happened that month as well. Oh, yeah, I remember. President Obama left office right around the time President Trump was sworn in.

Reading Stephens’s column like the citizens of the Soviet Union used to read Pravda, we may detect a Trump supporter struggling to emerge.

UPDATE: Bret Stephens has written me to take issue with this post. He writes:

Dear Scott,

I noticed your piece based on my interview with Gadi Eisenkot. Your entire premise is mistaken. I asked him directly if Trump’s election had anything to do with the change in policy. He categorically denied it. The change in strategy was long in the works and the result of Iran’s increasing assertiveness in Syria, not the result of the US election. Had it been otherwise, I would have said so in my column.

This is a note for the record. Since I know you take journalistic accuracy seriously, I trust you will correct and amend your post accordingly.


With Bret’s permission, I am pleased to include his message as an addendum to my comments above.

NOTE: In the video below, the IDF depicts the sixth Hezbollah tunnel into Israel.


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