US Ambassador David Friedman at the knesset.
(photo credit: MATTY STERN, US EMBASSY TEL AVIV)
The US and Israel are “of the same mind” when it comes to opposition to any Iranian military presence in Syria, US Ambassador David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview this week.
Friedman, in his first wide-ranging interview with the Israeli media since taking up his position in mid- May, said the US was “extraordinarily receptive” to Israel’s concerns about Iranian penetration into Syria when a high-level security delegation led by Mossad head Yossi Cohen went to Washington to discuss the issue two weeks ago.
“They’re obviously unanimously of the view that the vacuum created by the defeat of ISIS cannot result in the presence of Iranian military bases,” Friedman said, adding that the issue of how to get ”the right result” was still a work in progress that involves a number of other players, including the Russians, Jordanians and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“I think that the Americans fully support the Israeli objectives,” he said, unwilling to discuss, however, how this objective of keeping Iran out of a post-civil war Syria can be reached. “But at least from a macro perspective, the Americans and Israelis are of the same mind.” Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, Friedman said that the Trump administration was “trying very hard not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Rather, Friedman said that the Trump administration was trying to approach the issue “from a forward- looking perspective, and we’re just trying to create something that would be a win-win for Israel and the Palestinians.
“If it is not good for both, it’s not going to get done, so we’re trying to find ways to make sure that each side looks at the opportunity versus the present and concludes that the opportunity is better than the present,” he said. “We’re very sensitive to all the things that go into the calculus, and we’re trying to find the right place where both sides can say, ‘We’re better off jumping into this pool than staying where we are.’”
Asked about the regional dimension that could be in play in reigniting a diplomatic process, Friedman said Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner “has established extraordinary relationships among the Gulf states and other Sunni countries. I think those relationships are extremely important to this process.” He would not, however, delve into any more detail.
Friedman had harsh words for the Obama administration, saying that its enabling of the passage of anti-settlement UN Security Resolution 2334 last December was an “absolute betrayal of Israel,” and as “sharp a betrayal” as any US president has ever inflicted on the Jewish state. He said that President Donald Trump’s decision to name him ambassador to Israel was a signal that “America is going to be a better friend to Israel than it had been over the past eight years.”
Part of this friendship starts at the top, and Friedman characterized as “phenomenal” the relationship between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The chemistry between the two men “is just excellent,” said Friedman, who has sat in on a number of meetings between them.
“It’s fun to be with them,” he said. “It’s not a formal meeting. They’re not on edge. They’re not sitting back in their chairs in a formal way. They’re kind of talking like a couple of friends, and it’s fun to be in the room with them, because the conversations are really pleasant. They’re funny. They’re cordial. As someone who cares so much about both countries, it’s great to see the leaders of both countries getting along so well.”
The two leaders are expected to meet in late September in New York when they travel there to address the UN General Assembly.
Asked about the recent events in Charlottesville and Trump’s response to them, Friedman said the president has condemned the neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups “in the strongest terms on numerous occasions, and anyone who thinks the president is racist is either not paying attention or is willfully blind to the facts.”
According to Friedman, the real “takeaway” from Charlottesville is that a few hundred neo-Nazis and white supremacist hit a jackpot they could never have dreamed of, “because the left-wing media is so obsessed with destroying the president that they are willing to elevate these fringe groups onto the front page day after day after day just to hurt the president. That to me is astonishing.”
The full interview will appear in Friday’s Jerusalem Post.
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