Israel’s ‘unofficial’ reaction to US pullout from Syria: Disappointment

Unofficially, Israel reacted with disappointment to the Trump administration’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

While Israel officially accepted the U.S. announcement that it was pulling its troops out of Syria with equanimity, unofficially the reaction was grave disappointment, Israel Hayom reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was given a head’s up by the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the decision was announced, which was otherwise closely guarded and appears to have been made without consultations with senior GOP leaders.

The prime minister said yesterday, “This is, of course, an American decision. We will study its timetable, how it will be implemented and – of course – its implications for us. In any case we will take care to maintain the security of Israel and to defend ourselves in this area.”

On Wednesday, Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he said, “We’ve won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them. We’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

Unofficially, Israel’s reaction has been harsher. A senior minister in Israel’s government told Israel Hayom that America’s unilateral withdrawal constitutes “a spoiled opportunity, because Russia has been demanding for a long time that the U.S. pull its forces out of Syria. It would have been possible to demand of the Russians the pullout of Iranian forces from Syria, at least partially, in exchange for American forces leaving.”

The paper quotes another “well-known member of the political establishment,” who said, “the meaning is the abandonment of an ally. Extracting forces broadcasts a lack of staying power by the U.S., and it will be streamed to the whole world.”

The senior official added that, “Israel isn’t interested in American soldiers defending it,” but in this instance there’s nothing stopping “the continued spread of Russia, Iran and Turkey in the region. This is a situation that needs to be dealt with. We can defend ourselves, but Israel has an interest in an American bargaining position in the Middle East as a whole.”

Israeli Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, warned that the departure of U.S. forces from the Syrian-Iraqi border “will open the way to Iran, to transferring equipment by way of land through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. It should definitely worry Israel,” Israel Hayom reports.

Some American political and defense figures share the unofficial Israeli view that the troop pullout is a mistake.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was “blindsided” by the decision and called it “a disaster in the making.” He said, “The biggest winners in this are ISIS and Iran,” the Associated Press reports.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) said the withdrawal would be a “grave error with broader implications” beyond the fight against ISIS. He called it “one more example of how the United States is not a reliable partner.”

Although Trump talked about a troop withdrawal from Syria both as a presidential candidate and since taking office, his decision seems to come as a surprise to many in his administration. It also didn’t square with numerous statements by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about the importance of a continued American presence in Syria to ensure stability.

Russian Reaction

Russia unsurprisingly praised the U.S. pullout on Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it leaves Russia as the only superpower in Syrian territory paving the way for reaching a political accommodation in the country. Russia has called the American presence in Syria “unlawful” and that “instead of being a factor in the war on terror, America has turned into an obstacle in bringing about an agreement.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s main military partner in Syria, expressed deep concern about the move. “The war against Islamic state has not ended and the Islamic State has not been defeated,” the SDF said in a statement.

Arin Sheikmos, a Kurdish journalist, told the Associated Press, “We have every right to be afraid. If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the [Syrian] regime, our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. Neither the regime nor Iran nor Turkey will accept our presence here.”