Netanyahu: U.S. supports escalated Israeli response to Iran in Syria

Trump, PM speak after withdrawal announcement

By
December 21, 2018 01:33
Netanyahu Trump

PM Netanyahu and President Trump. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)

 
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The United States supports increased Israeli activity against Iran in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, as he attempted to assuage the Israeli public that the Trump administration’s withdrawal of troops from Syria will not harm Israeli security.

“We will continue to act in Syria to prevent Iran’s effort to militarily entrench itself against us,” Netanyahu said during a tripartite meeting with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts in Beersheba. “We are not reducing our efforts; we will increase our efforts. I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the US.”

The IDF will also continue to destroy the attack tunnels Hezbollah dug along the northern border, Netanyahu said.

“These tunnels were built by Hezbollah with direct support and funding from Iran,” the prime minister said. “This is the Iranian web of aggression in the Middle East, which also terrorizes Europe and the entire world. Israel continues its operation against the terror tunnels and will do so until its completion. As we speak, we are employing means to neutralize these tunnels,” he said.

Russia also turned its eyes to Israel’s northern border on Thursday. A Russian parliamentary foreign affairs delegation visited the area of the tunnels with the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Netanyahu spoke by phone with US President Donald Trump, their second conversation this week on Syria. Netanyahu’s office said that the two leaders discussed ways to continue the joint cooperation between Israel and the US against Iranian aggression.

Trump, however, publicly clarified on Twitter that he did not favor military action when he spoke of halting Middle East threats.

The United States will likely end its air campaign against Islamic State in Syria when it pulls out troops, US officials said on Thursday.

“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?” Trump wrote. “Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight.”

No one should have been surprised by his decision, Trump said, because he campaigned about it and had already stated six months earlier that he wanted to leave Syria.

“Russia, Iran, Syria [and] others are the local enemy of ISIS,” Trump also tweeted. “We were doing [their] work. Time to come home [and] rebuild.”

In a video message he stated, “We have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and beaten them badly.”

But then he also tweeted this message: “I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

The United States will likely end its air campaign against Islamic State in Syria when it pulls out troops, US officials said on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow that he supports Trump’s move, but was skeptical.

“In terms of the withdrawal of US troops, I don’t know what this is about,” said Putin. “The US has had a presence in Afghanistan for 17 years, let’s say? And almost every year it says that it is withdrawing troops from there. But they are still present there. We don’t see any indication of US withdrawing troops as of yet, but I accept that it may be happening,” he said.


“Is the presence of American troops necessary here? I think not. And let’s not forget that the presence of your troops is illegitimate. We are in Syria on its invitation.

“If the US has decided to withdraw its contingent – that is [the] correct [thing to do],” Putin said.

On Twitter, he stated, “I agree with Donald Trump that ISIS was defeated in Syria, but terrorists can spill over into neighboring countries and regions.”

Amos Yadlin, executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), wrote on Twitter: “Trump’s decision emboldens its rivals that are committed to the region in the long term: Russia, Iran, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and ISIS. In summary, this step affects Israel, but there is no reason for immediate or military concern.”

Yadlin said that the US withdrawal was most likely part of a “drive to decrease US presence and casualties, [and] the US people’s fatigue from the nation’s long wars, but perhaps mainly what looks like a ‘grand deal’ with Turkey. Such abrupt US turns, seen by many as betraying its Kurdish partners in the war on ISIS, undermines the US’ reputation and credibility,” Yadlin wrote.

Trump’s announcement on Wednesday upended a central pillar of American policy in the Middle East, and stunned US lawmakers and allies, who challenged the president’s claim of victory.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by roughly 2,000 US troops, are in the final stages of a campaign to recapture areas seized by Islamic State terrorists.

But they face the threat of a military incursion by Turkey, which considers the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearhead the force to be a terrorist group – and possible advances by Syrian forces backed by Russia and Iran, committed to restoring President Bashar Assad’s control over the whole country.

After three years of fighting alongside US forces, the SDF said the battle against Islamic State had reached a decisive phase that required more support, not a precipitate US withdrawal.
Western allies including France, Britain and Germany also described Trump’s assertion of victory as premature.

Officials said France will keep its troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State has not been wiped out and poses a threat to French interests.

“For now, of course we are staying in Syria because the fight against Islamic State is essential,” said Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau.

France has about 1,100 troops in Iraq and Syria providing logistics, training and heavy artillery support as well as fighter jets. In Syria, it has dozens of special forces, military advisers and some foreign office personnel.

A British junior defense minister said on Wednesday that he strongly disagreed with Trump.

Islamic State “has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive,” Tobias Ellwood said in a tweet.

Neighboring Turkey, which has threatened an imminent military incursion targeting the US-allied Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria, has not commented directly on Trump’s decision, although an end to the US-Kurdish partnership will be welcomed in Ankara.

Kurdish militants east of the Euphrates in Syria “will be buried in their ditches when the time comes”, state-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying.

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