The US plans to coordinate its Syria troop pullout with Turkey, US President Donald Trump said on Sunday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to defend the measure that could bolster Iran at Israel’s expense.
“I just had a long and productive call with President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey,” Trump tweeted. “We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.”
The Turkish news outlet, TRT World, reported Sunday that its country had sent a convoy of military equipment and personnel into an area of Syria controlled by the Free Syrian Army, a Turkish ally.
The heightened military activity comes days after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would postpone a planned military operation on Kurdish YPG militia east of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. However, it will take over the fight against Islamic State militants following the United States’ decision to withdraw from the war-torn country.
According to media reports, Trump agreed to withdraw from Syria last week after hearing assurances from Erdogan that he would ensure ISIS’s defeat in Syria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to Trump’s announced by warning that Israel could escalate its fight against Iran in Syria.
He repeated that statement Sunday when he spoke at the start of the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem.
“The decision to remove the 2,000 US troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to act against Iran’s attempt to establish military bases in Syria, and if necessary we will even expand our operations there.”
“I want to reassure the concerned – our cooperation with the United States continues in full force and is carried out in many areas: in the operational, intelligence and other security fields,” Netanyahu added.
The prime minister also summarized IDF activity on the northern border to destroy the Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels, explaining that on Thursday, one tunnel had been blown up and another had been sealed.
“This operation will continue in the coming weeks until its completion in order to deny Hezbollah the tunnels weapon. The operation is meeting its timetable and its objectives,” he said.
Since Trump’s surprise announcement about Syria on Wednesday, Israeli officials have worked to calm fears that the move emboldens Iran and thus endangers Israel.
Resignation announcements in the wake of the decision by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US top envoy leading the global coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, only served to underscore Israeli fears.
Mattis, who had been scheduled to visit Israel this week to discuss Iran, canceled his trip.
Trump tweeted that McGurk was simply grandstanding.
“McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President [Barack] Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!” Trump tweeted.
He continued, “If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!”
With respect to the Mattis resignation, he said, “When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
By Sunday afternoon, however, he had temporarily replaced Mattis with his deputy, appointing Patrick Shanahan to the post of Acting Secretary of Defense effective January 1. He thereby pushed up Mattis’s departure by almost two months.
The president also plans for a scaling back of troops in Afghanistan, where Mattis had advocated for a strong US military presence.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, “I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria.” The French president spoke during a news conference in Chad.
“To be allies is to fight shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s the most important thing for a head of state and head of the military,” he said. “An ally should be dependable.”
Macron stressed the importance of the work of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which has captured large parts of northern and eastern Syria from Islamic State.
“I call on everyone... not to forget what we owe them,” he said.
In Israel, top members of the Bayit Yehudi party, its leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Army Radio the move was bad for Israel but did not impact its security. Trump, they explained, was still seen as a strong ally of the Jewish statute.
Bennett said that the impact of the crippling sanctions the US imposed on Iran were more effective in crippling Tehran’s aggressive behavior than the continued presence of US troops in Syria.
“We know how to protect ourselves,” Shaked said. The US withdrawal could lead to the transfer of more weapons to Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah from Iran, Shaked said, but “we will do everything we need to prevent Iran from gaining foothold in Syria.”
The withdrawal will also have a negative impact on the Kurdish militias in Syria, which have been leading the fight against the Islamic State, Shaked said. On Friday, Erdogan pledged to “eliminate” these Kurdish militias along with remaining ISIS fighters.
“The Kurds are great heroes,” she said, “and because of them, the West succeeded in its fight against ISIS. They are allies, and I hope that they will win in their battle against the Turks. I hope that the international community will prevent Erdogan from massacring the Kurds.”
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