Israel vows to fill void af­ter U.S. with­drawal from Syria

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Israel moved quickly to fill the com­ing power vac­uum af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump said U.S. troops were be­ing with­drawn from Syria, vow­ing to ramp up its own mil­i­tary cam­paign against Ira­nian-backed proxy groups in the coun­try — a clear sign that the war be­tween Jerusalem and Tehran will con­tinue with or with­out U.S. in­volve­ment.

“We will con­tinue to act very ag­gres­sively against Iran’s ef­forts to en­trench in Syria,” Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said in a tele­vised speech Thurs­day. “We do not in­tend to re­duce our ef­forts. We will in­ten­sify them, and I know that we do so with the full sup­port and back­ing of the United States.”

Mr. Ne­tanyahu made the com­ments amid a back­lash in the U.S. from law­mak­ers of both par­ties who say Mr. Trump is putting Israel, its strong­est ally in the re­gion, in grave dan­ger of in­creased ex­po­sure to Hezbol­lah and other ex­trem­ist groups al­lied with Iran and Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. The ram­i­fi­ca­tions for Israel were just one of as­pect of the global fall­out from Mr. Trump’s stun­ning dec­la­ra­tion that he be­lieves the war on the Is­lamic State in Syria has been won and that it’s time for Amer­i­can forces to come home.

The Pen­tagon of­fered lit­tle de­tail on the loom­ing with­drawal, how soon it will be im­ple­mented and ex­actly what the Amer­i­can-led mis­sion to de­feat the Is­lamic State will look like once the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops exit Syria.

Secretary of State Mike Pom­peo dis­puted re­ports that the pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment blind­sided his mil­i­tary and for­eign pol­icy ad­vis­ers. He said Mr. Trump acted in full con­sul­ta­tion with his na­tional se­cu­rity team. Echo­ing Pen­tagon of­fi­cials, Mr. Pom­peo also said that leav­ing Syria does not mean the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is end­ing its war on the Is­lamic State, which is es­ti­mated to have as many as 30,000 fight­ers across the Mid­dle East and Africa.

“This was a de­ci­sion that was made with lots of con­sul­ta­tion be­tween all the se­nior-level of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing my­self, with the pres­i­dent,” Mr. Pom­peo told con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Laura In­gra­ham on Thurs­day.

Mr. Trump of­fered some­thing of a shift­ing ra­tio­nale Thurs­day for the with­drawal. His ini­tial ex­pla­na­tion — that the Is­lamic State has been de­feated in Syria and there is no longer a rea­son for the U.S. to be there — gave way to a larger ar­gu­ment that the U.S. can­not po­lice the world or be solely re­spon­si­ble for de­feat­ing the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Get­ting out of Syria was no sur­prise,” he tweeted Thurs­day morn­ing. “I’ve been cam­paign­ing on it for years, and six months ago, when I very pub­licly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Rus­sia, Iran, Syria and oth­ers are the lo­cal en­emy of ISIS. We were do­ing [their] work.

“Does the USA want to be the Po­lice­man of the Mid­dle East, get­ting NOTH­ING but spend­ing pre­cious lives and tril­lions of dol­lars pro­tect­ing oth­ers who, in al­most all cases, do not ap­pre­ci­ate what we are do­ing?” he con­tin­ued. “Do we want to be there for­ever?”

What­ever the rea­son­ing, Mr. Trump is fac­ing af­ter­shocks across Europe and the Mid­dle East and near-univer­sal out­rage from Congress.

French and Bri­tish of­fi­cials ar­gued that the Is­lamic State remains a se­ri­ous threat to the re­gion and that the U.S. must not lose sight of the dan­gers.

With­out di­rect U.S. mil­i­tary back­ing, Amer­ica’s Kur­dish al­lies said Thurs­day, they are con­sid­er­ing re­leas­ing as many as 3,200 Is­lamic State pris­on­ers as they pre­pare for con­tin­ued clashes with the ter­ror­ist group and for the pos­si­bil­ity of mil­i­tary at­tacks from Turkey.

The Syr­ian Kur­dish forces, crit­ics said, have been valu­able al­lies in a years­long fight with the Is­lamic State but now are be­ing abruptly aban­doned.

“If we do this to the Kurds, who is go­ing to help us in the fu­ture?” Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, said on CNN.

Other law­mak­ers ze­roed in on the threat to Israel, which has en­tered the fight as Ira­nian ad­vis­ers and Tehran­backed Hezbol­lah bat­tle Syr­ian rebel groups in the strate­gi­cally vi­tal Golan Heights area and along the Is­raeli-Syr­ian border.

“The war against ISIS is not won,” Sen. Christo­pher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, told MSNBC.

In Israel, of­fi­cials made it no se­cret that they be­lieve Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion puts their coun­try in greater dan­ger.

“Of course the Amer­i­can de­ci­sion is not good for us,” Is­raeli Fi­nance Min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon told Israel’s Army Ra­dio. “But we know that safe­guard­ing Israel’s se­cu­rity is also an Amer­i­can in­ter­est in the re­gion.”

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