US President Donald Trump has admitted that the US only keeps its troops in the Middle East to protect Israel.
In an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, Trump explained that he would not withdraw US troops from the region because of the need to support Israel, despite the fact that other US concerns such as oil were no longer sufficient reason to remain. Trump told the Post:
Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world [the Middle East]? One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we're producing more oil now than we've ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don't have to stay there.
Trump's comments have been interpreted as referring specifically to Saudi Arabia – one of the US' main oil providers and increasingly an Israeli ally – with the Times of Israel suggesting the president "appear[s] to envision a world where the US would be less beholden to Saudi Arabia".
This triangular relationship between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia has been forefront in Trump's decision-making in recent weeks. Last week, Trump suggested that Israel would face severe difficulties without the presence of Saudi Arabia, saying: "The fact is that Saudi Arabia is tremendously helpful in the Middle East, if we didn't have Saudi Arabia we wouldn't have a big base [and] Israel would be in big trouble". Also last week, Trump thanked Saudi Arabia for lowering oil prices, stressing the US would remain a "steadfast partner" of the kingdom and not allow the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to harm US-Saudi relations or weaken Israel.
It is no secret that the US provides extensive military support to Israel. In October, the largest ever US military aid package to Israel – worth $38 billion to be delivered over a period of ten years – entered into force. US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert explained that: "Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU], the United States will set funding for Israel at levels of $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing and $500 million for cooperative programmes for missile defence over each of the next ten years".
The implementation of the MOU was intended to reflect "the enduring and unshakable commitment of the President [Trump], this Administration, and the American people to Israel's security," Nauert added.
The US also regularly raises money to support the Israeli army. In the past two months the Friends of the Israel Defence Force (FIDF) held two galas to raise money for the army, raising a total of $92 million across the two evenings. The first event – held in October in New York – raised $32 million and was attended by over 1,000 US business people and philanthropists, as well as key figures from the Israeli establishment. In November, a second FIDF gala held in Beverly Hills, California raised $60 million and was attended by a host of celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher, Pharrell Williams, Gerard Butler and Katharine McPhee.