Trump's New Senior Middle East Adviser: Hawkish on Iran, Friendly to Egypt

Col. (ret.) Derek Harvey was instrumental in this week's U.S. State Department statement that it’s reexamining former President Obama’s last-ditch $221m payment to Palestinian Authority.

U.S. President Donald Trump saluting as he steps off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, January 26, 2017.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Trump administration has appointed former U.S. Army Col. Derek Harvey as its senior director for Middle East policies on the National Security Council.

Haaretz has learned that Harvey – whose appointment was reported Thursday in The Wall Street Journal – was one of the officials who earlier this week instructed the U.S. State Department to issue a statement saying it was reexamining the outgoing administration’s decision to transfer $221 million to the Palestinian Authority during President Barack Obama’s last hours in office.

The fate of the money transfer remains unclear. When President Donald Trump was asked about it Thursday night in an interview on Fox News, he didn’t directly answer the question, saying only, “We’ll see what happens.”

Harvey served for more than two decades in the military and later joined the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where his work focused on the war in Iraq.

He is reportedly close to former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, under whom he worked both as a military officer and later as a civilian analyst for the government.

In 2010, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward called Harvey “Gen. Petraeus’ favorite intelligence officer,” explaining that he was “kind of like a homicide detective.”

Harvey also previously worked with retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who will be his new boss at the NSC.

National Security Advise-designate Michael T. Flynn, waits for an elevator at Trump Tower in New York.
Kathy Willens/AP

A government source described Harvey as “the new Rob Malley,” referring to the former Obama administration official who was in charge of Middle East affairs at the outgoing NSC.

But while Malley’s background was mostly academic and diplomatic, Harvey spent most of his adult life either in uniform or working for the intelligence community.

In recent years he has also taken on academic activities, such as joining the University of South Florida’s Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict in 2014.

Harvey has also published articles and analyses, many of them critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

In March 2015, he wrote an article for the conservative Weekly Standard under the headline “Obama’s ISIS strategy empowers Iran” (also published on his own private website). In it, he accused the White House of forming a “de-facto anti-ISIS partnership with Tehran,” adding, “Tehran’s influence and power in Iraq has gained dramatically while the U.S. is increasingly seen as a hesitant and peripheral player – a willing accomplice to enhancing Tehran’s sphere of influence.”

In the same article, he also warned that “the regional perception of a U.S.-Tehran anti-ISIS compact alienates and increases insecurity in Tel Aviv, Ankara, Amman, Cairo and Riyadh.”

In an article penned on his personal website in January 2015 (“U.S. must rebuild relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel”), Harvey wrote that the Obama administration “has disappointed with its weak and disjointed policies, undercutting allies, friends and others in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Israel.”

Harvey called to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. “Why won’t President Obama talk to Egyptian President Sisi [sic]? Sisi has taken on the threat of violent, intolerant Islamic jihadism at great personal risk. Obama will reconcile with the Castro brothers and Iranian Mullahs but won’t talk to a friend like President Sisi,” Harvey wrote.

Since the Egyptian president was reportedly the first world leader to speak with Trump after his election victory last November, and has subsequently been invited to the White House, it seems at least this part of Harvey’s approach will become policy in the new administration.

The last article appearing on Harvey’s personal website is from May 2015. It deals with an issue that very likely could become one of his largest tasks: defeating ISIS. The headline reads “ISIS is not losing, so the U.S. is not winning.”

Harvey writes that “although U.S. airstrikes complicate the situation for ISIS, the air campaign is not decisive. The Islamic State leadership at all levels is adaptive and creative in responding to Coalition operations. Importantly, the Islamic State remains well armed and well-resourced despite nearly a year long campaign against them.”

In June, Harvey reportedly told Newsmax TV that Secretary of State John Kerry "must be smoking dope" if he believes that an attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul that month proves that ISIS is "desperate."

"They're ignoring the intelligence — and I think Secretary Kerry, I hate to say it, must be smoking dope," Harvey was quoted as saying on "Newsmax Prime." "He is not paying attention to the intelligence and he does not understand the enemy with his statements." 

Another former military officer reportedly set to join the NSC’s Middle East staff is Col. Joel Rayburn. According to The Wall Street Journal, he will work as one of Harvey’s deputies. Like Harvey, Rayburn has also served under Gen. Petraeus’ command, and has also expressed hawkish views with regards to Iran’s nuclear program and its regional ambitions.

It is not yet clear who will be the NSC’s official dealing directly with issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians.

The position is currently held by Yael Lempert, a career diplomat who moved to the NSC during the Obama presidency and is still in the White House assisting the transition period.

Lempert, the NSC’s senior director for the Levant, Israel and Egypt, is expected to stay on for a few more weeks, but not beyond that.