Donald Trump’s decision to abandon former Kurdish allies in Syria last week has been a shock to Israel and its US lobby. Israel thought it had a very special place in Trump’s worldview, but the withdrawal appears to gives Iran far more leeway in the Middle East. We are on our own against Iran, several Israeli officials and Israel supporters have concluded fearfully.
Not surprisingly, Israel’s interest in U.S. Syria policy was on display in American politics this week. For the first time Congressional Republicans broke with Trump over the move; and 129 Republicans voted to condemn the decision when the House voted by 354-60 on that resolution Wednesday.
Israel featured in Congressional debate of Trump’s move. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer said Trump’s move endangers Israel.
Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida said the decision forces the Kurds into the Iranian camp, and Israel is the loser:
Our Kurdish friends were betrayed and slaughtered and are now forced to align with Syrian forces backed by Iran creating an even bigger threat to our friend Israel.
Israel came up for the first time in four Democratic debates this week because of the Syria decision, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar saying, “This is an outrageous thing that happened here…. Think about our other allies, Israel. How do they feel right now? Donald Trump is not true to his word when they are a beacon of democracy in the Mideast.”
Israel lobby groups have also bemoaned the decision. Democratic Majority 4 Israel is retweeting a Democratic congressman’s charge that Trump’s decision was “weak.”
While the liberal Zionist organization Peace Now has published Yossi Alpher’s view that Israel is on its own now and civilians are at risk from a possible Iranian attack:
If Iranian-backed attacks against Israel escalate, the Israeli civilian rear and infrastructure could suffer truly serious casualties. Israel’s anti-missile defense systems could be overwhelmed. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Israel would respond immediately and powerfully. Would Trump join a military campaign against Iran? Would the Gulf Arab states? Israeli Intelligence has persuasive reasons for skepticism.
Another liberal Zionist organization, the Israel Policy Forum, calls the decision a “disaster” for Israel. The country has been cast “diplomatically adrift.” Guy Frenkel writes, “A United States that appears less and less engaged in international affairs is a dangerous prospect for the future.”
The long-to-medium-term costs of Trump’s decision—the emboldening of Iran, ceding of sensitive areas to the Assad regime and its allies, the dangerous precedent the U.S. administration has created for future partnerships, the risk of new ISIS-supported attacks—are disastrous.
Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum echoes that view, saying “Israel is the clear loser” of the decision. Israel thought it could count on Trump, even to make war on Iran. But he’s unreliable, and the possibility of a war with Iran is higher than ever.
In Israel’s case, this makes the prospect of conflict with Iran more likely. Leaving aside Netanyahu’s Iran deal miscalculation stemming from his misreading of Trump, where he assumed that lobbying Trump to exit the JCPOA would also result in eventual U.S. military action to contain Iran, it seems to now be clear to the Israeli government that it cannot and should not rely on the U.S. to deter Iranian aggression in any sphere. An Israeli preemptive attack on Iran is now likelier than at any point in the past..
On the Iranian side, the lesson that it will take from the Kurdish turnaround and from Trump’s dithering over whether and how to respond to the Iranian cruise missile attack on Saudi oil facilities is that it can be even more aggressively adventurous in targeting American allies and partners, including Israel…
Koplow notes that the grand bargain Trump forged between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and Israel will also end because of the decision. The Arab states only bought in because they saw the U.S. taking a leading role in the Middle East. But the U.S. is getting out. The supposed benefits of an American presence were the theme of Sen. Chris Murphy’s liberal interventionist manifesto on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Israeli politicians have been outspoken on the Kurdish side. Netanyahu condemned Turkey’s attack and offered humanitarian assistance to the Kurds. He also warned about the “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurds by Turkey.
Trump’s decision was widely condemned by Israeli politicians, per the Times of Israel. Yair Lapid, a leader of Netanyahu’s chief rival party, said he joined Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen in “their call to impose sanctions on Turkey and suspend it from NATO in response to any attack on the Kurds in northern Syria.”
Former Netanyahu cabinet minister Naftali Bennett emphasized the We’re on our own theme: “The lesson for Israel is simple: Israel will ALWAYS defend itself by itself. The Jewish State will never put its fate in the hands of others, including our great friend, the USA.”