Israelis don’t feel they can count on the Trump administration to take up the battle against Iran, say Israel lobbyists inside the Democratic Party. Some Israelis even worry that Trump will “abandon” them.
Israelis are unnerved by the fact that the bromance between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu has cooled off, and Trump decided to withdraw forces from Syria after a call to Turkey’s president but without any consultation with Israeli officials, says Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel who now works at an Israeli security thinktank.
“Turkey is certainly considered a nemesis to Israel by most Israelis. Trump on a dime made this very dramatic decision. No US officials could explain it,” Shapiro said. “So there were many days and weeks of chaos of trying to understand it… I think it was very unnerving for Israelis to understand… that Trump’s very impulsive, very chaotic, non-consultative style… very much on whims and on personal feelings… really could work against Israeli interests.”
It is worrisome to Israel that Trump acts without checking in with Israeli officials. The president’s affection for Netanyahu “seems to have cooled” in light of Netanyahu’s electoral losses, Shapiro said, and there have been “no phone calls anyone can identify” between the two leaders in recent weeks.
Iran can now send weapons threatening Israel to “multiple venues,” in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, Shapiro said. Add to that “the lack of any U.S. response, certainly a kinetic response” to recent Iranian provocations in the Gulf, including alleged attacks on oil tankers, the downing of a US drone, the attack by an Iranian proxy on a Saudi oil facility, and “also cheating on the JCPOA” — the Iran deal of 2015 the U.S. withdrew from, Shapiro said, and Israelis are worried.
The fact that there has been “no real U.S. response” and “really no US leadership or presence or willingness to react, was quite unnerving for the first time for Israelis in the Trump presidency,” Shapiro said.
His comments were echoed by Ron Klein of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum during a conference call last Friday set up by Klein’s organization.
So Donald Trump told American Jews that they are being disloyal to Israel, but these consultants are fighting back, saying Israel can’t count on Trump.
Klein, a former congressman, said that Trump’s decision-making has been “very destabilizing and uncomfortable for elected officials” in Israel. It may be good for Trump politically to bring troops home, but to Israelis it felt like an abandonment. Mostly because Trump did not check in with them first.
“Israelis are used to high levels of consultation between our governments,” he said. “When that doesn’t happen it’s not something they’re used to and it definitely struck a nerve.”
Koplow said the lack of American assertiveness has caused Israelis to be more restrained in its military actions. Last week Hezbollah claimed to shoot down an Israeli drone in Lebanon. In the past Israeli military doctrine has been to hit back immediately. “This week Israel decided not to respond at all,” Koplow said. Israeli officials don’t know that they can count on the U.S., he said. In the past Israel had the sense that there was a “larger US umbrella that will prevent things from getting too far out of hand” but Israelis have lost this sense.
“There are mixed signals about how far they can trust the White House and to what extent the U.S. is actually going to be involved if there is an Israeli-Iranian fight in Syria,” Koplow said.
Shapiro said that Israelis got their first “shock” from Trump last December when he tweeted that he was going to remove troops from Syria, a decision he later walked back under pressure.
The “hyperbolic” response of some Israelis is that the U.S. will abandon Israel as it abandoned the Kurds in Syria, Shapiro said. He tries to reassure Israelis that the U.S. will be there for Israel if there’s a real need, though he is concerned by the lack of consultation between the two leaders.
All the experts on the call said that Democrats are still firmly in support of Israel. They largely dismissed the talk by three Democratic presidential candidates of conditioning aid over Israeli actions in the West Bank as unlikely to have any effect on American military assistance.
Though Shapiro and Koplow both emphasized that Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank is not in America’s interest, and no U.S. aid should go to such a project. It is not consistent with America’s “moral” values for Israel to cease to be a Jewish democratic state, Shapiro said; and annexation would be a “giant step” in that direction.
Koplow said that all Democratic candidates are supportive of an “eventual” two state solution (no time line on that one; Palestinians were promised a state in 1947).
And Ron Klein said that the Democratic Party leaders are all supportive of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, from Nancy Pelosi to Ted Deutch to Eliot Engel to Nita Lowey to Steny Hoyer, and Republicans are too. Though he added, “We know we have to be on our guard” about political support for Israel in the U.S. He urged Jewish voters to vote on “Jewish values,” which include support for Israel, gun control, immigration issues, quality health care, and “issues affecting minorities, that we as Jews understand deeply from our DNA and our history.”
None of the three had a word to say about Palestinian human rights under occupation as a source of American concern.