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Trump Syria pullout ‘blow’ to Tel Aviv: Israeli experts

December 21, 2018 at 7:00 pm

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with US President Donald Trump (R) within the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 1 December, 2018 [TURKISH PRESIDENCY / MURAT CETINMUHURDAR / /HANDOUTAnadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria has come as a “major blow” to Tel Aviv, according to Israeli analysts, Anadolu Agency reports.

On Wednesday, Trump — citing the defeat of the Daesh terrorist group — announced that US troops would be withdrawn from the war-torn country.

“It’s time for our troops to come back home,” Trump said in a pre-recorded video message posted on Twitter.

“Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” he added.

The US began its air campaign in Syria in 2014, also deploying ground forces with the ostensible aim of assisting its “local partners” in the fight against Daesh.

Although Trump had earlier vowed — in April — to withdraw US troops from Syria, the announcement nevertheless appears to have surprised several top administration officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton — a notorious neoconservative who had earlier said the US would not depart Syria until Iran was ready to do the same.

READ: American Defence Secretary resigns amidst uncertainty over US policy in the Middle East 

Analysts quoted in the Israeli media, meanwhile, have said the move came as a shock to Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had informed him Tuesday of the decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

In a subsequent statement, Netanyahu said: “The withdrawal from Syria is a US decision, of course, but we will study the consequences of this withdrawal and its impact on Israel’s security.”

Israel’s permanent representative at the UN, Danny Danon, for his part, said: “It is a US decision; we respect the decision made by the administration.”

In The Times of Israel, Danon was quoted as saying: “We have our concerns about Syria, about the threat of Iranian troops in Syria, and we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people, regardless if you have American troops, Russian troops, or [those of] any other nation.”

Israel’s Channel 10 television broadcaster described Trump’s decision as a “painful blow” to Israel.

The US president, Channel 10 said, had claimed victory over Daesh, but, from an Israeli perspective, the broadcaster added, “the only winner of this decision is Iran, as Tel Aviv lost the card [i.e., the US military presence] it was using against Russia”.

Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, carried the headline: “Anger over Trump’s withdrawal: A victory for Iran and a defeat for Israel.”

READ: Trump’s Syria withdrawal condemned by coalition members, SDF 

Anger over the US decision was not exclusive to Israel, the paper said, but had also irked Israel’s supporters inside the US administration, including Defense Secretary James Mattis — who resigned Friday to protest the move — and a number of Republican members of congress.

Israel Today, which is known to be close to Netanyahu, described Trump’s withdrawal decision as a “catastrophic mistake”.

Eran Lerman, vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a former Israeli military commander, was quoted as saying that the decision would “not only be catastrophic for Israel, but will also affect Trump’s allies, who will be left alone in the face of the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia”.

The move, he added, “will make anyone who thinks of a coalition with the US in the future move away from the idea”.

Israeli daily Haaretz, for its part, warned that the decision would lead to greater Russian and Iranian influence in Syria and would doubtlessly have a “strategic impact” on the entire Middle East region.

“The list of countries worried about this decision is long, including Israel, the Kurds, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,” the paper asserted.

According to recent media reports, all US State Department personnel will depart Syria within the next 24 hours while US ground forces will leave within 60 to 100 days.

It remains unclear whether US troops in Syria — estimated at some 2,000 soldiers — will all leave at once or if they will be incrementally drawn down.

Notably, the White House also declared that recent military gains against Daesh “do not signal the end of the Global [anti-Daesh] Coalition or its mission”.