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Israelis watch US abandon Kurds, and worry: Who’s next?
Israel underneath Netanyahu has depended closely on the Trump administration’s assist in confronting Tehran over its nuclear ambitions and over its expansionist strikes in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. (The New York Times)

Written by David M. Halbfinger

Israel’s nationwide safety doesn’t instantly depend upon who controls the border of Turkey and northern Syria, greater than 500 miles from its personal territory.

Yet President Donald Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw US troops there and abandon Kurdish forces, who’ve been stalwart US allies in opposition to the Islamic State, set off clanging alarm bells amongst officers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

And for a easy cause: If such a betrayal might befall the Kurds, Israelis from throughout the political spectrum are all of a sudden asking, what prevents the identical from befalling one other staunch US ally?

“A knife in our back,” screamed the headline over a column by Shimon Shiffer in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s greatest mainstream paper. “The conclusion we draw needs to be unequivocal: Trump has become unreliable for Israel. He can no longer be trusted,” the column learn.

Trump has insisted that the withdrawal just isn’t a betrayal. On Thursday morning, he tweeted, “We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.”

But in Israel, many see America’s withdrawal, which might expose the Kurds to a Turkish assault, as desertion.

“I feel like a Kurd today,” Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and prime foreign-policy official underneath Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stated in an interview.

Israeli fears don’t have anything to do with Turkey, and every little thing to do with Iran.

Israel underneath Netanyahu has depended closely on the Trump administration’s assist in confronting Tehran over its nuclear ambitions and over its expansionist strikes in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Israel believes Iran’s long-term technique is to base missiles in these international locations that may threaten Israel, as a deterrent to a pre-emptive strike — whether or not by Israel or the United States — on an Iranian nuclear weapons undertaking.

The White House got here via for Netanyahu when Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, which President Barack Obama had negotiated over Netanyahu’s loud protests.

The White House appeared dependable so long as the United States was imposing financial sanctions on Iran, and threatening the nation with retaliation if it resorted to violence in response.

But the White House has not been fairly so reliable extra lately, Israelis say.

The Trump administration’s failure to hit again at Iran after repeated strikes on oil tankers and Saudi oil fields that have been extensively, if not undeniably, attributed to Tehran has undermined the credibility of US army threats, Israeli analysts stated.

Trump’s openness to talks with Iran has bolstered the concept he’s averse to a brand new battle within the area. And his pullout of troops from Kurdish territory has solely bolstered the broader notion amongst Israelis that he desires to withdraw from the Middle East, even on the expense of US affect.

“There’s a growing sense that Trump is backing away from his commitments to allies,” stated Emily B. Landau, an arms-control knowledgeable on the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I’m not sure Israel’s in the same category as Saudi Arabia and the Kurds. At least I’m hoping that we’re not in the same category. But expectations were forged through Trump’s rhetoric and his behavior, and some of his policy decisions. And the question is, to what degree will he follow through with it, if Israel really needs the United States?”

That American dependability is even being questioned by Israelis might embolden Iran at a very harmful time, Israeli analysts stated.

“We are already in a highly volatile period, with Iran attacking US allies,” like Saudi Arabia, stated Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli analyst for International Crisis Group. “The Israelis are bracing against an Iranian attack. The defense establishment believes Iran will strike within two months. The Israeli reaction would be very different from the Saudi nonreaction, and Iran knows that. But it’s very dangerous to encourage Iran to feel safer and to give Iran more courage in its decisions.”

Beyond what classes Iran may take from Trump’s actions, Israeli officers are additionally watching how they are going to be interpreted in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, which already has proven indicators of curiosity in lowering tensions with Iran.

“The big concern in Israel,” Zalzberg stated, “is that if the Saudis feel exposed to Iranian attacks, they will shift from the current camp” — that of Israel and the United States, which have sought to disclaim Iran nuclear weapons altogether — “to the camp that says the most we can do is to diplomatically contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even if only partly.”

That has monumental potential implications for Israel, which has sought to leverage its opposition to Iran right into a diplomatic breakthrough with international locations within the Persian Gulf, stated Michael B. Oren, a former deputy minister underneath Netanyahu and ambassador to the United States in the course of the Obama administration.

“Take that away, and how amenable are the Gulf states going to be to do anything with Israel?” he stated.

“Trump’s ability to even advance a peace process with the Palestinians was predicated on his ability to stand up to the Iranians,” Oren added. Unless he does, that course of can be in danger, Oren stated.

“Why would the Saudis be on board with a peace process? Why would the Emiratis?” he stated. “Nobody’s connecting the dots. If you’re in favor of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, you’ve got to be in favor of a strong US policy toward Iran.”

As weighty because the stakes are, Netanyahu himself has saved quiet to this point — highlighting a key limitation of his longstanding coverage of bear-hugging Trump.

That apply produced political dividends like American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and helped persuade Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. It was so central to Netanyahu’s home picture as a diplomatic maestro that he ran big billboards displaying him grinning alongside Trump in two reelection campaigns this yr.

Yet it has additionally constrained Netanyahu from making use of public stress when he believes the president is making unhealthy choices.

The result’s that Netanyahu’s leverage with Trump has reached a brand new low — and but, “He can’t admit it publicly,” Zalzberg stated. “He’s given Trump a sense of immunity, in effect, from criticism by the Israeli prime minister — something that US presidents always took seriously. And with someone as unpredictable as Trump, this is really dangerous.”

The hand-wringing by Israelis over Trump’s choice on the Kurds was solely intensified by the truth that Tuesday was the eve of Yom Kippur, when Israelis not solely observe the somber Jewish Day of Atonement however recall the 1973 Yom Kippur warfare, a nationwide trauma that just about resulted in Israel’s defeat.

Oren, a historian earlier than he grew to become a diplomat, famous that when Israel turned to the United States for assist in that warfare, President Richard Nixon was beleaguered by the Watergate scandal that led to his impeachment and resignation. “And Israel’s enemies knew it,” Oren stated.

Now, pointing to the impeachment inquiry in opposition to Trump, and to Netanyahu’s seemingly indictment on corruption prices, he added, “It’s happening here.”

Oren recalled that in Obama’s final assembly with Netanyahu — regardless of their friction — the president stated that “if Israel ever got into a serious war, of course the US would intervene, because that’s what the American people expect.”

“I don’t think Israel can bank on that today,” Oren stated. “I don’t know now. And it’s enough to say I don’t know.”


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