Archive for October 10, 2019

Erdogan threatens EU with refugee influx if it criticizes Syria operation

October 10, 2019

Source: Erdogan threatens EU with refugee influx if it criticizes Syria operation | The Times of Israel

Turkish president says he will allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if bloc censures Ankara over military offensive against Kurdish forces

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during an extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019. (Adem ALTAN / AFP)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the EU on Thursday that Ankara would allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the bloc criticized Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.

“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a speech to his party.

Turkey launched an operation into Syrian territory on Wednesday, aimed at combating Kurdish militants tied to insurgents in its own territory.

Erdogan said 109 “terrorists” had been killed so far in the operation, which would soon cover ground from Manbij in northern Syria to the Iraqi border some 350 kilometers (220 miles) east.

Civilians flee amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

“God willing, we will crush these snakes’ heads quickly,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is prevent the establishment of a terrorist state on our southern border. This cannot happen,”

Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees from the eight-year conflict in Syria — the highest number in the world.

Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for six billion euros and visa-free travel for its citizens, but has frequently criticized the lack of assistance from Brussels.

“You have never been sincere,” Erdogan said, addressing the EU.

“Now they say they will withhold three billion euros from us. Have you ever kept any promise you gave us so far? No.”

One aim of the military operation is to establish a “safe zone” in which at least one million Syrian refugees can be repatriated, after the long-term presence of refugees became an increasingly political liability.

“For those who want to return to their country but don’t have a home left anymore, we plan to build settlements for one million people, with international financing,” Erdogan said.

A woman flees with her children amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

He also sought to assuage concerns regarding Islamic State prisoners currently held by Kurdish forces.

“Those that need to be kept in jail we will keep in jail. We will return foreigners to their home countries if they accept them back,” he said.

 

Netanyahu condemns Turkish invasion of Syrian Kurdistan, offers aid

October 10, 2019

Source: Netanyahu condemns Turkish invasion of Syrian Kurdistan, offers aid | The Times of Israel

Prime minister warns against ‘ethnic cleansing’ of minority in northern Syria, does not mention decision by US president that paved way for offensive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuat a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuat a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday denounced Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria and said Israel was prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the Kurds in Syria facing an onslaught from Ankara.

The comments were the first from Netanyahu on the situation in Syria after remaining silent for several days following US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from the country and allow the Turkish offensive to move ahead. Several other Israeli officials have denounced the Turkish operation and urged support for the Kurds.

“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office. “Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”

Netanyahu did not mention the US decision to withdraw troops and essentially give Ankara the green light for the offensive.

On Wednesday, Turkey launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, with intensive bombardment paving the way for a ground offensive made possible by the withdrawal of US troops.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack on Twitter and soon after jets and artillery targeted Kurdish positions along the full width of the border, sending thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters going to Tel Abyad from Turkish gate towards Syria in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on October 10, 2019. (BULENT KILIC/AFP)

In 2014, Netanyahu expressed support for an independent Kurdistan. He praised the Kurds’ “political commitment and political moderation,” and said they were “worthy of their own political independence.” But he has avoided criticizing Washington’s decision to pull its troops from northern Syria, which some analysts warn will create a vacuum to be filled by powers that don’t share Israel’s interests.

In what appeared to be a reference to that concern, Netanyahu declared earlier on Thursday that Israel will continue to defend itself on its own against regional threats.

“As in 1973, today we also greatly appreciate the important support of the US… At the same time, we always remember and implement the basic rule that guides us: Israel will protect itself, on its own, against any threat,” the prime minister said during a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery for those killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Netanyahu accused Iran of “striving to tighten its grip” on countries throughout the region, referencing the downing of a US drone and the targeting of Saudi Arabian oil refineries.

A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria on October 10, 2019 shows the Turkish flag as smokes rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after a mortar landed in Akcakale. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

“Iran threatens to wipe us off the map… Time and again, [the regime] tries to attack us, so we must stand ready to protect ourselves from the danger,” the premier added.

Israel and Turkey share chilly diplomatic relations, and Netanyahu regularly criticizes Erdogan for “massacring Kurds.”

Prominent lawmakers across the political spectrum in Israel have issued statements of support for the Kurdish people as Turkey began its invasion of Syria and in the US Trump has faced rare internal pressure from Republicans over the decision to not stand by the Kurds.

On Wednesday night, New Right MK Ayelet Shaked reissued a call for Kurdish statehood, urging the West to support the Kurds as Turkey launched a military campaign in northern Syria.

Most lawmakers have avoided criticizing Trump directly, but Meretz chairman Nitzan Horwitz mentioned the US president by name.

 

Trump defends Syria move: For us, ‘the stupid, endless Mideast wars are ending!’

October 10, 2019

Source: Trump defends Syria move: For us, ‘the stupid, endless Mideast wars are ending!’ | The Times of Israel

‘USA should never have been in Middle East’ president tweets, amid scathing bipartisan criticism for withdrawing forces, and mounting concern in Israel

President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese, in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese, in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday over sharp bipartisan criticism of his decision to pull back US troops from northeastern Syria, saying he is focused on the “BIG PICTURE” that does not include American involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East.

“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East,” Trump said in a series of morning tweets. “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”

Turkey launched its offensive Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have helped the US against the Islamic State. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists, and Trump’s decision to pull back US troops leaves them vulnerable to the military onslaught.

Trump’s decision is being condemned by some of his staunchest Republican allies.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Twitter Moments

@TwitterMoments

The White House said Turkey will be “moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria” and will be responsible for all ISIS fighters captured in the area. https://twitter.com/i/events/1181041653827588096 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, stepped up his criticism of the president Wednesday, telling “Fox & Friends” that if Trump “follows through with this, it would be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”

In a series of tweets, Graham urged prayers for “our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” adding, “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”

Graham on Monday had warned of the consequences for Israel, saying “The US now has no leverage and Syria will eventually become a nightmare for Israel.” And former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told the New York Times on Tuesday that he was no longer sure Israel could “bank on” on the US, under Trump, to come to Israel’s aid at a time of serious war.

Trump defended his unpopular decision, arguing on Twitter that “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!” He said the US went to war under a “false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE!”

This photo by Hawar news, the news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria (ANHA), shows smoke rising from shelling by Turkish forces, at the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn, northeast Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. A spokesman for the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led force in northern Syria says Turkish warplanes have started targeting “civilian areas” in northern Syria. (ANHA via AP)

Trump said he is “slowly & carefully” bringing home “our great soldiers & military,” in line with his campaign promise to do so.

He added: “Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!”

But the US military has kept a decades-long focus on the Middle East as part of a strategy of stopping or minimizing security threats before they spread to American and allied shores.

As a further sign that the military does not share Trump’s view that the fight against the extremists is over, a press release Wednesday by the US-led military coalition combating IS highlighted recent battlefield gains. It concluded by saying that “removing” IS fighters, weapons and bomb materials “remains a top priority” as the group “continues to plot attacks against innocent civilians and our partners throughout Iraq and northeast Syria.”

The US has about 1,000 troops in Syria and about 5,200 in neighboring Iraq.

Trump has long criticized President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, but the subsequent rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State has convinced many national security officials, and lawmakers such as Graham, that a precipitous US troop withdrawal from the region would leave the US and its allies even more vulnerable to extremism.

Trump also claimed the US has spent $8 trillion “fighting and policing” in the Middle East, up from the $7 trillion figure he has cited numerous times.

Trump is using an inflated estimate on the cost of wars and referring in part to predicted costs going decades into the future, not money actually spent. Some of the spending also reflects his policy decisions he made since taking office nearly three years ago.

Graham said Congress “will push back” against Turkey. He had said earlier this week that he was working on a bipartisan bill to sanction Turkey if they invade Syria, but he did not mention the proposal during Wednesday’s interview.

“We’re not giving Turkey a green light in Congress and we’re not going to abandon the Kurds,” he said. “If the President does so, we won’t.”

Trump announced Tuesday that he and Erdogan will meet at the White House on Nov. 13.

 

As US pulls out of Syria, Netanyahu insists Israel can defend itself on its own 

October 10, 2019

Source: As US pulls out of Syria, Netanyahu insists Israel can defend itself on its own | The Times of Israel

PM avoids commenting directly on Trump decision, criticized by senior right-wing MKs as an abandonment of the Kurds, but says Jerusalem appreciates Washington’s assistance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Screen capture/Youtube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl for those killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 10, 2019. (Screen capture/Youtube)

Against the backdrop of the US military’s withdrawal from Syria, criticized by some analysts who warn it will create a vacuum to be filled by powers that don’t share Israel’s interests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted on Thursday that Israel will defend itself on its own against regional threats.

“As in 1973, today we also greatly appreciate the important support of the US… At the same time, we always remember and implement the basic rule that guides us: Israel will protect itself, on its own, against any threat,” said Netanyahu during a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery for those killed in the Yom Kippur War.

The prime minister avoided directly mentioning the US decision to pull out from Syria, instead focusing on the “current source of aggression in the Middle East: the Iranian regime in Tehran.”

Netanyahu accused the Islamic Republic of “striving to tighten its grip” on countries throughout the region, referencing the downing of a US drone and the targeting of Saudi Arabian oil refineries.

A Syrian Kurdish woman flashes the v-sign during a demonstration against Turkish threats in Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on October 9, 2019. Turkish warplanes were reported to be attacking the town hours later. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

“Iran threatens to wipe us off the map… Time and again, [the regime] tries to attack us, so we must stand ready to protect ourselves from the danger,” the premier added.

While they also refrained from specifically mentioning the US president, several prominent right-wing lawmakers spoke out against the Trump-ordered withdrawal for its “abandonment” of the Kurdish civilians and military forces in northern Syria.

On Wednesday evening, New Right MK Ayelet Shaked reissued a call for Kurdish statehood, urging the West to support the Kurds as Turkey launched a military campaign in northern Syria.

“Our national memory requires us to revolt against violence directed against another nation. Such is the Turkish violence directed against the Kurdish people in northern Syria,” the former justice minister wrote on Facebook.

“I have said this in the past: It is in the interest of both Israel and the United States, for the security and stability of the region, that a Kurdish state be established,” she wrote.

“The Kurds are the world’s largest nation without a country, with a population of about 35 million people. They are an ancient people that share a special historical connection to the Jewish people,” she went on.

In 2016, Shaked, then justice minister, openly endorsed the idea of an independent Kurdistan.

Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

She was joined by other lawmakers, including New Right chairman Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar and Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser.

On Wednesday, Turkey launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, with intensive bombardment paving the way for a ground offensive made possible by the withdrawal of US troops.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack on Twitter and soon after jets and artillery targeted Kurdish positions along the full width of the border, sending thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.

In 2014, Netanyahu expressed support for an independent Kurdistan. He praised the Kurds’ “political commitment and political moderation,” and said they were “worthy of their own political independence.”

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, positioned himself as a supporter of Kurdish independence on Wednesday, tweeting a Kurdish flag together with the hashtag #freekurdistan.

 

Rely on no one

October 10, 2019

Source: Rely on no one – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

Great and unmatched wisdom?

BY JPOST EDITORIAL
 OCTOBER 10, 2019 02:47
KURDISH MEMBERS of Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan hike through mountains from Iraq to Iran.

“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” adding: #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.

Haley was not alone. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, considered one of Trump’s most loyal supporters in the Senate, called it “a disaster in the making.”

Graham was among a number of senior Republicans who came out strongly against Trump’s sudden decision to abandon America’s Kurdish ally. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Trump to reverse the decision, saying “a precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime.”

Another Republican ally of Trump, Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, also voiced objection to Trump’s decision, and of course so did all the Democrats. But that so many stalwart Republican defenders of this controversial president so vociferously objected to his sudden change of policy, is a clear indication that this decision might be a major strategic mistake.

The decision was not just a remarkable shift and horrible reversal of US policy, but also a clear and present danger to the region both now and for years to come. Moreover, throwing the Kurds under the bus sends a disturbing message to the US’s other friends in the region – and that includes Israel – who now all have to ask themselves if they can truly rely on America with Trump at the helm.

Trump tweeted that it was “time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”
But because the blowback was so severe, he followed up the next day: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

Great and unmatched wisdom?

That hardly seems to be the case in this decision as well as others that he has made in Syria and the Persian Gulf and have given Iran a feeling that it can do what it wants without paying a price.

“I don’t believe it is a good idea to outsource the fight against ISIS to Russia, Iran, and Turkey,” Graham tweeted. “They don’t have America’s best interests at heart. The most probable outcome of this impulsive decision is to ensure Iran’s domination of Syria. The US now has no leverage and Syria will eventually become a nightmare for Israel.”

Indeed.

Thankfully, Graham will not sit idly by and allow a genocide to unfold. He announced that he and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen will introduce legislation calling for sanctions against Ankara if Turkey invades Syria, and “will call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the US in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate.”

The ostensible reason for the US leaving Syria is to allow Turkey a free hand in fighting ISIS, but that’s not realistic. Turkey does not have the capability to shut down ISIS. Its real target is the Kurds, and it is no doubt preparing to unleash a massive attack.

Israel needs to draw the necessary lesson that the Jewish state’s founding fathers understood after the Holocaust just as it was taught by Hillel and quoted in Ethics of the Fathers: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Every day, the State of Israel weighs the movements of its surrounding enemies bent on destroying the country. Surveying the landscape and weighing the options of how to react, Israel knows its decisions must be based on one underlying principle: it can never rely on others, even those whom it thinks are its best friends.

With his decision to abandon the Kurds, Trump proved once again that Hillel was right. Israel can only rely on itself.

 

Trump’s new actions, inactions on Kurds, Syria, Iran have Israel deeply worried 

October 10, 2019

Source: Trump’s new actions, inactions on Kurds, Syria, Iran have Israel deeply worried | The Times of Israel

Former Israeli ambassador to the US says he no longer thinks Israel can ‘bank on’ the US intervening if a serious war broke out

A worker hangs an election campaign billboard of the Likud party shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump in Tel Aviv, Israel  on September 8, 2019. Hebrew on billboard reads 'Netanyahu, in another league.' (AP/Oded Balilty)

A worker hangs an election campaign billboard of the Likud party shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump in Tel Aviv, Israel on September 8, 2019. Hebrew on billboard reads ‘Netanyahu, in another league.’ (AP/Oded Balilty)

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from a crucial area of the Turkey-Syria border, widely seen as an abandonment of America’s Kurdish allies there, has reinforced the resonance of a series of “emergency” warnings issued by Israeli leaders in the days leading up to Wednesday’s solemn Yom Kippur.

Israel’s concern, as Channel 13’s military analyst Or Heller put it on Wednesday night, is that “Trump’s isolationism” will encourage Iran to do what it did to Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month: attack.

When the new Knesset was sworn in last Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was facing a dire challenge from an increasingly emboldened Iran. “This isn’t spin, it’s not a whim, this is not ‘Netanyahu trying to scare us,’” he insisted. “Anyone who knows the situation knows that Iran is getting stronger and is attacking around the world, saying clearly, ‘Israel will disappear.’ They believe it, they are working toward it, we need to take them seriously. That reality obligates us to act. Remember my words and heed them.”

More understatedly but along the same lines, President Reuven Rivlin warned that same day that Israel currently had security needs “the likes of which we have not known for many years.”

And Netanyahu’s former defense minister, now rival, Avigdor Liberman, on Saturday cited a “national emergency,” in today’s Israel, including “security threats from south, north and further away.”

Despite the prime minister’s insistence that “this isn’t spin,” the political leaders’ warnings were widely seen at first as part of the jockeying over Israel’s next government: Netanyahu has been unable to muster a majority; Liberman is urging a coalition compromising his own Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu’s Likud, and rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party; and Rivlin has been seeking to broker some form of power-sharing arrangement.

Even when Netanyahu convened Israel’s key decision-making security cabinet for the first time in two months on Sunday, with Iran at the top of the agenda, many opposition politicians and analysts still largely attributed the gathering to political motivations.

But then, later that day, Trump announced his planned troop withdrawal. By Wednesday, Turkish forces were targeting Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, forces that had long been allied with the US in the battle against Islamic State.

Coming in the wake of the US president’s decision not to carry out or organize any kind of response to the major drone and cruise missile strike September 14 on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant, widely attributed to Iran, and other Iranian attacks on oil tankers and Saudi targets, Trump’s latest policies are increasingly being seen in Israel as boosting Iran and undermining US allies.

In terms of the practical consequence of Trump’s withdrawal, a US troop departure eases Iran’s path to growing control in Syria, and helps facilitate its relentless effort to establish a corridor of military control from Tehran to Beirut.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

In a speech aired on Iranian television on Monday, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the man responsible for the regime’s expansionist military activities overseas boasted that Iran has now created “territorial continuity” by connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Despite efforts by “the Zionist regime” and the US to stop it, he said, Iran “has expanded the resistance from a geographical territory of 2,000 square kilometers in southern Lebanon to a territory of half a million square kilometers.”

In terms of the heightened military threat exposed by Iran’s drone and cruise missile strike at the Saudi Abqaiq facility, Israeli army chiefs have acknowledged that Iran’s evident success in penetrating Saudi defenses, which include the Patriot air defense system that Israel also uses, has prompted a fresh analysis of Iran’s capabilities to ensure that Israel is not vulnerable.

Defense officials have reportedly gone so far as to conclude that a similar assault by Iran on Israel, if it came, would likely be launched from western Iraq, where there is a strong presence of Iran-backed militias.

The concern in Israel, TV analyst Heller said Wednesday, is that the US president’s hands-off approach in the wake of the Abqaiq attack “will encourage the Iranians to act against Israel” in the same way, “with cruise missiles and drones.” Soleimani’s al-Quds force has “an account to settle with Israel,” because of Israeli strikes at Iranian targets in Syria and Lebanon, he noted.

Uzi Even, one of the founders of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, wrote in Haaretz on Sunday that work at Dimona should be halted in the light of Iran’s demonstrable capabilities. “The Iranians, or their proxies, showed that they can hit specific targets with great precision and from a distance of hundreds of kilometers. We have to accept the fact that we are now vulnerable to such a strike.”

Israel has missile defense systems and other capabilities that the Saudis do not, and the Israeli defense establishment is far less bleak than Even. A senior officer in the IDF’s Military Intelligence unit told Channel 13 TV on Monday that the Iranians “get a high mark, too high,” for the Abqaiq attack, but stressed that Tehran would “absolutely” not succeed if it attempted to launch a similar assault on Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks to Israeli Navy soldiers on the stern of a ship in the Haifa Port during a surprise exercise on September 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Still, the IDF’s chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi, felt moved to issue a warning Monday that any attack on Israel would be met with a “forceful” response. “We are keeping our eyes open, having daily situation assessments, and taking professional decisions that lead to attacks and the thwarting of threats.”

Finally, however, in terms of the dependability, or otherwise, of the Trump administration in an Israeli hour of need, the president’s latest policies — notably regarding what had been the US alliance with the Kurds — are causing overt dismay in some Israeli circles. Netanyahu has closely allied himself with Trump, hailing their friendship at the risk of alienating the president’s Democratic opponents, and being rewarded with presidential recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, and of the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory this past March.

Writing in Israel’s biggest-selling Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on the eve of Yom Kippur, veteran diplomatic correspondent Shimon Shiffer warned that Trump’s decision on the Syrian withdrawal, and his “abandoning of the Kurdish allies, who believed that the US would stand with them… must set all our red lights flashing.” And the conclusion for Israel, Shiffer charged, “needs to be unequivocal: Trump has become unreliable for Israel. He can no longer be trusted.”

Shiffer, whose column was headlined “A knife in our backs,” noted that the president didn’t even tell Israel in advance of his Syrian withdrawal plans. He also noted pointedly, given the timing of his column, that the US strategic airlift of weapons and supplies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel was facing defeat, was nothing short of decisive.

In less charged but no less significant terms, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, until recently a deputy minister in Netanyahu’s government, told the New York Times on Tuesday he was no longer sure Israel could rely on the US, under Trump, to come to Israel’s aid at a time of serious war. Oren, who served in DC from 2009-2013, recalled that at Barack Obama’s last meeting with Netanyahu — who had a friction-filled relationship, especially over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — the president assured the prime minister that “if Israel ever got into a serious war, of course the US would intervene, because that’s what the American people expect.” Said Oren: “I don’t think Israel can bank on that today… I don’t know now.”

For now, Channel 13’s Heller stressed, Israeli-American military coordination is unchanged. In the coming days, indeed, the Israeli Air Force will be hosting a joint Blue Flag drill with the US Air Force in the south of Israel.

On Tuesday, shortly before the start of Yom Kippur, Trump issued a presidential message to the Jewish people, saying that “Melania and I pray that He may seal you in the Book of Life for the coming year.”

The president’s words will have been warmly received in the Jewish state. He had very nice things to say about the Kurds, too, that same day: “In no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” he tweeted.

But concern is mounting about the president’s deeds.

 

EU demands Turkey halt Syria operation as NATO chief urges ‘restraint’ 

October 10, 2019

Source: EU demands Turkey halt Syria operation as NATO chief urges ‘restraint’ | The Times of Israel

EU chief says political solution is only way to end the Syrian conflict; NATO calls for Turkey to avoid actions that may further destabilize the region

Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday demanded Turkey halt its military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, telling Ankara a political solution was the only way to end the Syrian conflict.

He spoke as Turkish forces launched an assault on Kurdish positions, with air strikes and explosions reported near the border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack, which is aimed at curbing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF was previously allied to the US, which used it to crush the Islamic State group.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament on September 12, 2018, in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN)

Juncker told the European Parliament he recognized Turkey had “security concerns” along the border, but he warned the military action would not lead to a “good result.”

“I call on Turkey as well as the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, under way,” Juncker said.

“I have to say if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.”

Turkish civilians look at a Turkish army’s convoy driving towards the Syrian border near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on October 9, 2019 (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday urged Turkey to show “restraint” in its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria, warning that the fight against the Islamic State group should not be put at risk.

After NATO member Turkey launched an assault aimed at curbing the SDF, Stoltenberg acknowledged that Ankara had “legitimate security concerns” but called for a measured response.

“NATO has been informed by Turkish authorities about the ongoing operations in Northern Syria. It’s important to avoid actions that may further destabilize the region, escalate tensions, and cause more human suffering,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in remarks released by his office.

“I count on Turkey to act with restraint and to ensure that any action it may take in northern Syria is proportionate and measured.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he delivers a speech during a press conference about the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters, in Brussels, on August 2, 2019 (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Erdogan announced the start of “Operation Peace Spring,” saying it aimed to stop a “terror corridor” emerging along Turkey’s southern frontier.

The SDF was previously allied to the US, which used it to crush the Islamic State group. But Turkey says it is linked to Kurdish insurgents inside its own territory.

The assault has been strongly criticized by France and Germany, which warned it risked an IS resurgence, and Stoltenberg said the fight against the Islamists must not be endangered.

“We must not jeopardize the gains we have made together against our common enemy, ISIS,” Stoltenberg said, using another acronym for the jihadist group.

“ISIS continues to pose a grave threat to the Middle East and North Africa, and to all our nations,” he said.

Stoltenberg will visit Istanbul on Friday and he said he would raise the issue with Erdogan.

France said Wednesday it “strongly condemns” Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria.

European Affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin said France, Germany and Britain were working on a joint declaration “which will be extremely clear on the fact that we very strongly condemn” the Turkish campaign against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

The minister also told parliament’s foreign affairs commission that France would bring up the matter at the United Nations Security Council.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.