Reflections of USA’s Withdrawal from Syria on Israel

Following the declaration of Donald Trump, the President of the United States, that the US troops would be pulled from Syria, it seems that balance of power may shift in Syria. Although conflicts continuing in Syria for the last 7 years were initially named as “civil war”, the process has been transformed from civil war into “proxy war”. With Trump’s declaration, USA will either completely leave this equation or at least minimise its impact in the region. No doubt, this state will most likely affect Israel.

  1. Syria and Donald Trump

Donald Trump declared that the US would withdraw from Syria by tweeting and posting a video on Wednesday 19th December 2018. On this video, Trump said:[1]

We’ve won against Isis. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We have taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home. I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It’s a great honor; we cherish them; but it’s heartbreaking. They’ve killed Isis who hurts the world and we’re proud to have done it. Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won. And that’s the way we want it. And that’s the way they want it.”

Although it seems that Trump suddenly took withdrawal decision, it should not be forgotten that this decision is actually his campaign promise. Yet during his campaign process, Trump declared that it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policies that have negatively impacted the Middle East region, USA spent trillions of dollars on the region and although USA remained in the Middle East in the last 15 years, the Middle East has become even worse than it was before. In addition to this, Trump’s taking the decision of withdrawal from Syria has not been easy.

Although Trump has newly declared his decision about Syria, at a meeting held in Ohio on 29 March 2018, he was declared that USA would withdraw from Syria soon. At this given meeting, Trump expressed that US troops rapidly captured regions dominated by Isis and US would soon pull back from the region.[2] In addition to this, US Department of Defense known as Pentagon and US Department of State indicated that they were unaware of such a plan. Afterwards Trump changed his discourse and stated that USA should remain in the region for a while.[3] In short, it can be mentioned that some institutions in the US prevent Trump to take action on this decision – at least before – although Trump intends to pull back from Syria for a long time.

Despite Trump’s declaration, there are opposite opinions on this matter within USA. Resignation of Secretary of Defense following Trump’s Syria decision is a good example of this situation. Although James Mattis, Secretary of Defense did not directly make a connection with Syrian decision in his resignation letter, he expressed that he thought Trump had the right to work with a Secretary of Defense having closer views with his own.[4] This difference of opinion has been influential in Washington’s not yet explaining details and scope of its Syria plan.

Washington’s decision got confusing reactions in international arena. While Turkey and Russia positively responded to this decision, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Israel were not content with this situation.

  1. Israel and Syria

Israel has been one of the active actors of the war by being on USA’s side during Syrian Civil War. Even though Netanyahu did not explicitly react to USA upon its Syria decision, according to Israeli press he was not content with this decision.[5] On Thursday 20 December 2018, Trump and Netanyahu had a phone call and Syria matter was addressed. Although no detailed information was provided about this phone call, it is estimated that Netanyahu expressed his annoyance about Trump’s decision. On the same day, Netanyahu made a new statement and declared that Israel would pursue an aggressive policy against Iran in Syria and he believed that USA would support them while doing so.[6]

Senior political and military authorities in Israel, on the other hand, harshly criticised Syria decision of the US. Israeli authorities who expressed withdrawal as a kind of “surrender” or “an action that may harm reputation of the US” and indicated that this state was embarrassing for a leader, like Netanyahu, who was thought to be close to Trump, also asserted that in the meantime this action would strengthen Iran and Russia in the region and raise difficulties for the US allies such as Jordan and Israel.[7]

According to an article published in the Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz on Friday 21 October 2018, it was stressed that the US decision had a sobering effect on Netanyahu and Netanyahu became so loyal to Trump that he could not resist to Trump. In this article, it was stated that although USA had a relatively small troop of 2,000 soldiers in Syria and these soldiers were not directly helping Israel on Iran matter, the given military force kept Iranian soldiers from the Golan Heights and existence of USA in the region was another active power against Russia. Besides, it was expressed that it was not such a trustworthy discourse that Netanyahu would pursue an aggressive policy against Iran in Syria because the main reason why Israel was in such a state was Netanyahu himself since he counted on Trump too much. Finally, according to this article, with the decision of Washington, Trump sent a very clear message to the US’ allies. According to this message, problems in this region must be tackled by countries in the same region.[8]

The real impact of America’s decision on Israel is the fact that Israel, so to say, was left alone against enemies such as Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, Syria and Isis. This will particularly have an impact on Iranian troops in Syria. While American soldiers prevent Iran to get weapons into the region, this power will disappear with the withdrawal plan. Although America’s withdrawal will not remove acquisitions of Israel in Syria, it will encourage Iran to make a military move in Syria. Moreover, the given decision means that Assad regime will recover lost lands more easily. This state is for the benefit of Iran as the biggest supporter of Assad regime.[9]

Conclusion

Although Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria seems to be an abrupt decision, it is part of the Middle East policy, which he has been working on for a long time. However, it was seen that the decision caused a great reaction both in the United States and outside the United States. With this decision which particularly disturbed America’s allies, Trump has clearly manifested that America will no longer be the police of the world. This situation particularly influenced Israel in the region. For this country, which has very close ties with USA, this decision has caused a sort of shock effect and as Israeli authorities put it, it left Israel alone against its enemies. It can be understood by this decision that Trump, who has very good relations with Israel by replacing USA Embassy to Jerusalem, will prioritise his own country when appropriate, in line with his “America First” policy campaign.


[1] @realDonaldTrump, “After Historic Victories Against ISIS, It’s Time to Bring Our Great Young People Home!”, Twitter, 20 December 2018, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1075528854402256896, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[2]  Eric Schmitt-Helene Cooper ve Alissa J. Rubin, “Trump Orders State Dept. to Suspend Funds for Syria Recovery”, The New York Times, 30 March 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/world/middleeast/syria-us-coalition-deaths.html, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[3] Hakan Çopur, “ABD’de Suriye’den Geri Çekilme Savaşları”, Anadolu Ajansı, 5 April 2018, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/analiz-haber/abdde-suriyeden-geri-cekilme-savaslari/1109061, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[4] Jeremy Diamond vd., “Mattis Quits, Says His Views aren’t ‘Aligned’ with Trump’s”, CNN, 21 December 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/20/politics/donald-trump-james-mattis-out/index.html, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[5] “ABD’nin Suriye’den Çekileceği Haberi İsrail’i Endişelendirdi”, Hürriyet, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/dunya/abdnin-suriyeden-cekilecegi-haberi-israili-endiselendirdi-41057959, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[6] “Netanyahu ile Trump, ABD’nin Suriye’den Çekilme Kararını Görüştü”, Sputnik, https://tr.sputniknews.com/ortadogu/201812201036736852-netanyahu-trump-abd-suriyeden-cekilme-karari/, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[7] Andrew Carey-Amir Tal, “Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Hurts Netanyahu, US Reputation, Israelis Say”, CNN, 20 December 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/19/politics/israel-us-syria-withdrawal/index.html, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[8]  “Trump’s Withdrawal From Syria Is a Slap in the Face to Netanyahu”, Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/.premium-trump-s-withdrawal-from-syria-is-a-slap-in-the-face-to-netanyahu-1.6766342, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

[9] Raphael Ahren, “Trump Pullout from Syria Leaves Israel Alone to Battle Iran’s Likely Resurgence”, The Times of Israel, 19 December 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-pullout-from-syria-may-embolden-iran-and-leave-israel-in-the-cold/, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2018).

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Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ, 1994 yılında Adana'da doğdu. İlköğretim ve lise eğitimini Osmaniye'de tamamladı. 2016 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünden mezun olan Kıldiş, yüksek lisans eğitimine 2017 yılından itibaren yine Gazi Üniversitesi’nde Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları bölümünde devam etmekte ve ‘’Suriyeli Sığınmacılar ve Avrupa’da Yükselen Aşırı Sağ’’ üzerine tez yazmaktadır. Lisans döneminde İstanbul'da İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı'nda staj yapan Kıldiş, yüksek lisans sırasında Brüksel'de TÜSİAD'da Erasmus stajı ve Ankara'da ANKASAM stratejik araştırmalar merkezinde staj yapmıştır. Yazar göç, İslamofobi, aşırı sağ ve Avrupa Birliği konularını çalışmaktadır.

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