How will Trump’s address in Iraq effect Israel? 

Source: How will Trump’s address in Iraq effect Israel? – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

Since Trump’s Syria withdrawal decision on December 19, Israeli leaders have put on a brave face, not openly disagreeing with the US decision.

 DECEMBER 29, 2018 21:48
How will Trump's address in Iraq effect Israel?

President Donald Trump flew to Iraq’s Ayn al-Asad airbase on Wednesday in a surprise address to US troops stationed there. It came the day after Christmas and was Trump’s first visit to a US war zone. He echoed comments he had made since his campaign, aiming to reduce America’s presence abroad and get other countries to pay for their own defense. He also sought to hammer home his decision to leave Syria. He is charting a unique course for the United States, but by doing so and reducing the US influence and presence in the Middle East, his words will have ramifications on Israel.

Since Trump’s Syria withdrawal decision on December 19, Israeli leaders have put on a brave face, not openly disagreeing with the US decision and asserting that Israel will act against Iranian threats in Syria and other threats that may emerge. The alleged Israeli airstrikes on December 25 near Damascus can be interpreted as part of the message. The Syrian regime blamed Israel, and Russia critiqued Jerusalem for endangering a civilian aircraft. Russia’s words are not only about the civilian aircraft. The threat to Syrian civilian flights comes from Syrian air defense whose wild firing of missiles threatens their own planes just as they mistakenly shot down a Russian IL-20 in September. However, Moscow’s warning is a warning to Israel about continued operations.

This dovetails with Trump’s Iraq visit. The US President could have made this part of a larger trip, going to Baghdad and Erbil to meet essential Iraqi leaders, and then to Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel to show that the US may be leaving Syria, but the US is not leaving the Middle East. Instead this visit was a US-only visit. It took place in Iraq, but at a US airbase. Therefore it was designed for a domestic American audience, but the Middle East paid close attention to Trump’s words.

Trump said ISIS was mostly defeated, and that the US would remain in Iraq to prevent a resurgence. “We are putting America first for the first time in a long time,” Trump said, arguing that the US would no longer be suckers, paying for foreign wars. He said the Syria conflict demands a political solution, and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey might be part of that. He argued that the US would withdraw in an orderly manner from Syria “while maintaining US presence in Iraq to prevent ISIS resurgence and protect US interests, and also to always watch very closely over any reformation of ISIS and also to watch over Iran. We’ll be watching,” Trump said.

The comments about Iran are part of a larger US policy that began with Trump’s decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal and continued with sanctions applied this fall, particularly in November. However Iran appears to be on a charm offensive in the region. Its president was recently in Turkey, and it is working with Ankara and Moscow to form a constitution committee for Syria. It also attended the Doha Forum. In each instance, Iran seeks to show that it is an influential country, and it pairs its visits with jibes at Israel. Recent comments by Turkey’s president against Israel, even comparing Israeli actions against the Palestinians to the Holocaust, paired with Iran’s comments and Russia’s criticism, show that Israel may be in for rough sailing ahead. Israel has improved some relations in the Gulf but Turkey and Iran are two of the most important and powerful countries and economies in the region. The warmth their leaders show is a threat to Israel, as is Iran’s presence in Syria and its growing influence in Iraq. Confabs like the Doha Forum also isolate Israel as Jerusalem has no presence at them, even as Qatar still claims to play a positive role in the peace process.

Now is the time to have a serious conversation with the US about its Middle East strategy. Trump wants to put America first. The US is increasing its defense budget which is good for Israel because of defense connections between Israel and the US. But a reduced US presence in the region is not helpful in the long term.


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