Trump's Syria withdrawal hurts Netanyahu, US reputation, Israelis say

Senior political and military figures in Israel have sharply criticized the US announcement of a military wi...

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 9:42 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 9:42 AM

Senior political and military figures in Israel have sharply criticized the US announcement of a military withdrawal from Syria.

An opposition figure described it as a surrender, while a retired air force general said it was a move that would damage the reputation of the United States. Others said it would strengthen Iran, embolden Russia, create complications for Israel and challenges for regional US allies such as Jordan.

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Political figures said the move was acutely embarrassing for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made his close relationship with President Donald Trump one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.

Trump announced the decision Wednesday, saying in a video on Twitter that the US had defeated ISIS and no longer had a need to stay in Syria. The US has had about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, where they have primarily been training local forces and working with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to combat ISIS.

'Beaten them badly'

"We've been fighting for a long time in Syria," Trump said in the video posted to Twitter on Wednesday. "I've been President for almost two years and we've really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home."

But by contrast, in Israel, Russia and Iran were widely seen as the major beneficiaries of Trump's announcement.

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party tweeted, "The surrender of the Americans from Syria is a failure of Netanyahu's foreign policy. It clears the way for Iran's expansion and narrows Israel's ability to bargain with the Russians."

Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, who more recently served as Netanyahu's defense minister but is now one of his most vocal critics, said the move exposed the Prime Minister's over-reliance on his relationships with the American and Russian leaders.

"Trump is deserting Syria and the Iranians are celebrating," Barak said. "Endless photo opportunities" between Trump and Netanyahu "will not mask the truth: Trump does not work for Bibi and neither does (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Israel and only Israel is responsible for its own future and fate," Barak tweeted.

Amos Yadlin, a former general in the Israeli air force and later Israeli military attache to Washington, said that by deserting its Kurdish partners who have assisted in fighting ISIS, Trump was damaging the reputation of the United States and the trust regional states had in it.

In a series of tweets, Yadlin said the withdrawal strengthened the position of America's rivals, which are committed to the region for the long term, and named Russia, Iran, Assad and ISIS.

He added that the strategic ramifications for Israel were not positive, but said he did not believe there was cause for immediate military concern in Israel.

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