67°F
weather icon Clear

As Trump abandons Kurds, Israel worries about trust

JERUSALEM — For the past three years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bet heavily on President Donald Trump and been rewarded with major diplomatic gains in exchange for his warm embrace of the U.S. leader.

But the U.S. pullback from northeastern Syria, essentially abandoning its Kurdish allies, has called that strategy — and Trump’s reliability as a friend — into question. In particular, there are growing fears that Israel’s archenemy Iran could be emboldened by what appears to be an increasingly hands-off American policy in the region.

“The Israelis had thought of Trump as a special U.S. leader very much in tune with their view of the region,” said Dan Shapiro, who was former U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel. “Now they’re coming to terms with the cold hard reality that his isolationist instincts and his chaotic, impulsive decision making can actually be very damaging to their interests.”

It is a surprising turn of events for Netanyahu, who has been one of Trump’s strongest supporters on the international stage.

That alliance yielded a wealth of dividends for Netanyahu during the first few years of the Trump administration — perhaps none so striking as Trump’s decision to break with decades of U.S. policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He moved the American Embassy to the contested holy city, enraging the Palestinians.

Trump also withdrew from the international nuclear deal with Iran — an agreement that Israel had derided as weak and ineffective. He defended Israel from its many critics at the United Nations, and, early this year, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Routine boasts

Netanyahu routinely boasts that Trump is the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House. But things have begun to change since he failed to win reelection in April and was forced to hold a second, inconclusive vote last month.

During the first campaign for the April race, Trump embraced Netanyahu’s candidacy and made little secret of his support, inviting the Israeli leader to the White House when he announced his recognition of the Golan Heights annexation.

But during the do-over race, Trump kept his distance. And after Netanyahu last month failed for a second time to win a parliamentary majority in national elections, Trump appeared to play down the friendship. “Our relations are with Israel, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Concerns have only deepened following a series of moves in which Trump backed away from possible military confrontations. In June, he called off a planned attack against Iran in response to the shooting down of an American drone. Trump also decided against military action in response to an alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities last month, saying he did not want war.

Then, this week, he abruptly withdrew U.S. troops from Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish invasion aimed at crushing the Kurds, America’s allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. Trump has defended the move by saying the United States should not be “fighting and policing” in the Middle East. But it reportedly caught Israeli officials off guard.

The fear is that Trump’s actions, or lack thereof, could encourage Iran to step up what Israel sees as aggressive and hostile activity in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

‘Very weak U.S.’

“The main image is a very weak U.S. that does not help its allies. It deserts its allies,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

Israeli officials declined to comment about Trump’s decision in northern Syria but said relations with the U.S. remain strong and the country is more than capable of defending itself.

“We will always remember and implement the basic rule that has guided us: Israel will defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said at a memorial ceremony Thursday for soldiers killed in the 1973 Mideast war. “The Israeli military is prepared to preempt any threat, defensively and offensively, with crushing strength.”

But while officials have stopped short of openly criticizing Trump, the American pullback from Syria has pushed some to question Netanyahu’s close alliance. That support has had the effect of alienating some of Israel’s traditional backers in the Democratic Party and the overwhelmingly liberal Jewish American community and caused friction with allies in Europe.

“From Jerusalem’s perspective, it is another warning sign that this president — until recently presented as Israel’s greatest friend ever in Washington — can’t be trusted,” said Amos Harel, a commentator in the Haaretz daily. “Again, one must wonder whether too much reliance hadn’t been placed on Trump, at the cost of Netanyahu distancing himself far from the Democrats and undermining traditional bipartisan support in Washington for Israel.”

Ofer Shelach, a lawmaker with the Blue and White Party, the main rival of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the events in northeastern Syria are “more evidence of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing diplomatic failure.” He said that despite the close ties with Netanyahu, Trump does “what suits him.”

But not everyone views the U.S. move as necessarily bad for Israel — or all that new. Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said Trump’s disengagement in many ways continues Obama’s reluctance to become embroiled in yet another Mideast conflict.

Although a U.S. exit from the region could have “very bad consequences” in terms of Iranian actions, he said it also could create new opportunities. Not having to worry about the “sensitivities” of U.S. troops in the area could give Israel more freedom to act, he said.

“The space is more opened to not just the Iranians but to us,” he said.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Trump compares House impeachment inquiry to ‘a lynching’

President Donald Trump injected racial overtones into the House impeachment inquiry Tuesday by comparing the Democratic-led investigation into his handling of U.S. policy toward Ukraine to a “lynching.” The highest-ranking African American in Congress warned Trump about making the comparison.

US troops leaving Syria for Iraq cannot stay, says military

U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country, Iraq’s military said Tuesday as American forces continued to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion of the border region.

Trump defends his decisions over Syria, G7

President Donald Trump on Monday addressed controversies such as Republicans breaking ranks with him over Syria and canceling a plan to hold the G7 meeting at his Miami golf course.

BLM whistleblower regains job in Nevada after firing

Craig Hoover, a rangeland specialist with the federal agency, said he was terminated after reporting illegal livestock grazing in eastern Nevada.

Israeli PM Netanyahu gives up on forming new coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu said he was returning the “mandate” to President Reuven Rivlin, who will now ask Gantz to try to form a coalition.

US plans to require DNA sample from all asylum-seekers

The Justice Department will publish an amended regulation Monday that would mandate DNA collection for almost all migrants who cross between official entry points and are held even temporarily, according to an official.