For Israel, there’s little black or white about Trump’s Syria strike
WAS ANYONE more elated at the American cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base last week than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? He was enthusiastically tweeting his support for Donald Trump’s unilateral military action so early the following morning that most Israelis were still sound asleep, unaware the attack had even occurred.
It is easy to see why Mr Netanyahu was so overjoyed to wake up to the news. The Pentagon’s decision to attack a Syrian regime target, while informing Russia in advance, could have come straight from the Jewish state’s playbook on how to navigate the Syrian civil war.
In one of the most extraordinary diplomatic compromises in modern military history, since Russia entered the conflict two years ago Israel has also been launching air strikes (albeit on a lesser scale) at both Syrian and Hizbollah military targets.
Despite the fact that its soldiers are fighting alongside the two armies being targeted by Israel, the Kremlin has turned a blind eye to the IDF strikes, in deference to its longstanding friendship with the Jewish state.
Moreover, the US launched its cruise missile barrage just as Moscow announced — in a first for a major world power — that it was recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in anticipation of an eventual twostate solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Astonishingly, even better news came for Mr Netanyahu on Saturday: The American Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told CNN that regime change in Damascus was now as important a priority to the Trump administration as defeating Daesh.
The Israeli government had been furious at Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to endorse precisely such a policy.
Tel Aviv fears the alternative — a victorious President Bashar Al-Assad — will result in an even more emboldened Iran and Hizbollah, both of whom are committed to the Jewish state’s destruction.
But, as ever, potentially hazardous obstacles for Israel lurk on the horizon.
For a start, Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted furiously to the cruise missile strike on Syria and, as a result, he is beefing up Russian air defences inside the country.
Since this is happening just weeks after the Russian Foreign Ministry, for the first time, officially relayed its displeasure at Israeli air strikes inside Syria, one imagines Mr Putin will be less likely to accommodate them in the future.
Worse, Mr Netanyahu’s predictably public rejoicing at the Pentagon’s air strikes bought straight into the narrative of the Assad regime’s propaganda, namely that they were part of a Zionist plot to bring about regime change. ProAssad demonstrators in Damascus yesterday repeatedly chanted “Death to Israel”.
If a wider conflict breaks out, that narrative may resonate throughout the Arab world — putting Israel’s crucial intelligence alliances with Saudi Arabia and Egypt at risk.
And none of this is to mention the unknown consequences if World War Three erupts in Israel’s backyard.
The US envoy to the UN said regime change in Damascus was as important as defeating Daesh
John R Bradley’s latest book is ‘After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle Est Revolts’
A US navy destroyer fires a cruise missile towards its target in Syria last week