Israel’s defense establishment reacted with surprise and a degree of concern on Thursday to US President Donald Trump’s announcement that ISIS had been defeated, and that American forces would therefore be leaving Syria.
In fact, the withdrawal of the US military from Syria began even as Trump was delivering his “victory” speech.
Recently-resigned Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the move had the potential to spark a major regional war. “The withdrawal of the US from Syria significantly raises the chance of an all-out conflict in the north — both in Lebanon and Syria,” he told Israel Radio.
Liberman insisted that the Americans leaving the area would embolden the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies. That assessment was shared by many senior Israeli officials.
While the US had only around 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, they controlled, or at least supervised, the main crossing points between Syria and Iraq. With their departure, Liberman explained that “we’re now talking about contiguous Shiite land between Iran, Iraq and Syria,” which will almost certainly mean a strengthening of the Iranian military position in Syria and more advanced weapons reaching Hezbollah.
According to Israel’s Channel 10 news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to persuade Trump to change his mind, but to no avail. Channel 10 described the move as “a slap in the face” for Israel, and opposition leaders slammed Netanyahu for his failure to dissuade the Americans from making what many here see as a hasty and reckless decision.