Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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Trump and Israel at a crossroads

Trump’s abandonment of Syria endangers Israel.

More than anything else, a friend of Israel is a friend of Israel’s security. Support for Israel’s political, technological, religious or social needs, or its historical rights, presumes Israel’s existence, i.e., its security. Security assistance to Israel comes in two forms: weapons; and the defeat, or at least the diminution, of Israel’s enemies. On this last score, President Donald Trump has failed miserably, like President Barack Obama before him, in Syria. For some reason, the Syrian civil war, which began in March, 2011, has cast a hex on American leadership.

We shall not rehash our military and humanitarian objections to America’s response to this war except insofar as they pertain to Israel. The latest American response — President Trump’s decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria — is a direct endangerment of Israel.

It is no secret, least of all to Trump himself, that Iran and Russia want to rule Syria, Russia indirectly and Iran directly. It is no secret that of the two countries, Iran is hostile to Israel — so hostile, in fact, that it regularly calls for Israel’s destruction. It is no secret that for years Iran has attempted to import weaponry into Syria for the purpose of using it against Israel. It is no secret that Iran wishes to establish permanent military bases in Syria in order to attack Israel. It is no secret that, short of this, Iran arms Hezbollah, the terrorist group in Lebanon, to threaten Israel. Yet,  Trump announces a complete American withdrawal from Syria!

What kind of pro-Israel position is this? It isn’t. Nor is it cushioned by the pro-Israel moves that Trump has taken, since those other moves do not defend Israel’s security.

Yes, the $38 billion, 10-year  commitment to military aid to Israel, now winding its way through the legislative process, is a direct contribution to Israel’s security, but this is  the logical conclusion of the work of the Obama administration, where credit for this aid package goes. On the Syrian front, however, Obama failed Israel — just as Trump does now.

Small though the American contingent in Syria is, some 2,000 troops, their mere presence in Syria complicates and confounds Russian and Iranian actions in Syria, lest they get entangled with the American troops and risk an American military response. These American troops also protect the Kurds, an Israeli ally, a bulwark against ISIS and a hindrance to a total victory by Bashar Assad in his civil war. These American troops serve as a deterrent against a resurgence of ISIS.

One would think that American interests alone should convince Trump of the critical importance of retaining the small American military contingent in Syria. It is in America’s interest to halt the thirst for Middle East hegemony by Iran, which revels in calling America the “Great Satan” and aspires to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the US. It is in America’s interest to throttle the terrorist Hezbollah, to retard Assad from further brutal depredations, and to limit Russian expansion. If ever there were a perfect case of the congruence of American and Israeli geopolitical interests, it is in halting or retarding the brutal actors in Syria. Trump’s decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria is a dire move for America and Israel alike. Defense Secretary Mattis, who resigned, rightly excoriated Trump.

This is not the first time American and Israeli interests have converged in Syria. Yet, the US does not act on them. As we say, the Syrian civil war cast a hex. For all of Trump’s boasting about his differences with Obama, on Syria the two presidents are the same.

On Dec. 8, 2017, we observed that Trump, by doing nothing to end the civil war in Syria, was endangering Israel by leaving Syria to Assad, Russia and Iran. Earlier, on July 28, 2017, we observed that Trump was doing no more to end the civil war in Syria than did Obama. Still earlier, on March 25, 2016, we observed that Obama had given Russia carte blanche in Syria because, as Obama flippantly put it, Russia would soon find itself in a “quagmire” in Syria. Some quagmire. Just the opposite: Russia has gained the upper hand in Syria, content to shore up the Assad regime, share power with Iran and acquire a disproportionate influence over the future of Syria.

Trump’s affirmation of this failed policy puts at risk not only Israel, but Jordan, the Kurds, Iraq and the Sunni Arabs in Syria.

On June 14, 2013, we observed that President Obama was content to  declare “red lines,” to deplore, to go to the UN, to beg Russia to stop arming Assad, to conduct  debates within his administration about whether to take action. Under Trump, nothing changed, save a one-time response to Assad’s use of a weapon of mass destruction — not followed up politically or militarily. Both sides of the aisle have rightly condemned Trump’s withdrawal. Yes, Trump has changed the tone of America-Israel relations, but man does not live by tone alone.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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