There’s been much criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump for his precipitous drawdown of troops from Syria and granting of “permission” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for Turkey’s troops to cross the border in order to subdue Syrian Kurds.
Trump’s decision is certainly questionable on many fronts, but it also reinforces the supreme wisdom of Israel’s strategy of military self-sufficiency—which also makes the Jewish state an even more valuable ally of the United States and a more attractive potential ally of its Arab neighbors.
While Trump’s foreign policy often seems uneven and uncoordinated, this recent move nonetheless seems to have a bedrock logic. Above all, as the president says, he wants to disentangle the United States from the “endless wars” among Middle East “tribes.”
While this sounds reasonable on its face, it also creates major problems for our allies.
For one, U.S. withdrawal supports muscle-flexing by Erdoğan, one of the most entrenched dictators in the Middle East, who is often hostile to U.S. and Israeli interests. Trump’s move also comes at the expense of the Syrian Kurds, who assisted the United States in routing Islamic State (ISIS) from Syria (and whose national aspirations Israel supports).
In self-defense, the Kurds have been forced to seek alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and may also request assistance from Iran, which is working tirelessly to make Syria its latest proxy puppet.
The U.S. action also reverberates for the Gulf States, and especially for Saudi Arabia. Any reduction of pressure on Iran increases Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability to the Islamic Republic, which just weeks ago mounted devastating missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil refineries.
Finally, Israel surely cannot cheer any diminution of American influence in Syria, especially in favor of Turkey and in territory on its border where arch-enemy Iran continues an ominous buildup of military might.
Yet, Israel’s military is ranked 17th strongest in the world, and Israel is ranked the eighth most powerful nation globally based on economic influence, political influence, international alliances and military strength.
Those rankings are obviously helpful in and of themselves, but they are important because they support Trump’s desire to have other countries contribute to fighting the “bad guys,” which both European and Arab nations have been reluctant to do, especially against Iran.
Indeed, Israel has attacked Iranian assets in Syria some 200 times, while even the United States has never done so. In any case, Israel’s military power and prowess position it well to handle its own conflicts without direct U.S. intervention, which cannot be said for most states in the Middle East.
It also seems clear that just as past U.S. presidents have, Trump would rather have the Israel Defense Forces on the front lines of Middle East conflagrations than American service members.
Israel’s military strength likewise makes the Jewish state an ideal potential ally to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab Gulf states since they are demonstrably unable or unwilling to risk armed response to Iran’s aggression.
But let’s not discount the more than $3 billion Israel receives annually in U.S. military aid—a critical factor in providing Israel such world-class power and influence.
This expense is clearly a bargain compared with the cost of activating U.S. troops and armaments in the region in case of conflict. That’s especially true considering all such U.S. aid is spent in the United States, and that the United States regularly benefits from acquiring advanced Israel military technology and Middle East intelligence.
Nonetheless, Trump’s seeming impulsiveness and unpredictability should make Israelis and supporters of Israel nervous. Relying on this president could be risky.
Surely it behooves Israel to cultivate warm, collaborative relationships with the U.S. government (and both political parties) at all levels—as it has always sought to do. But Israel’s interests are best served by managing international relations—diplomatic, commercial and military—as independently as possible from this White House and Congress … or the next.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.