What a President Trump means for Israel's regional security

Donald Trump is a known supporter of Israel, but how will he deal with a region consumed by conflict?

November 10, 2016 08:56
4 minute read.
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses AIPAC in Washington

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)

For at least the next four years, Donald J. Trump will be in charge of US foreign policy and will be commander-in-chief, with access to all intelligence gathered by the world’s most sophisticated spy agency. He will also be the man that Israel will rely on for a key part of its security.

During his 18-month-long campaign, Trump promised many things that will have a great impact on Israel. And many of his positions go against long-standing American policies toward Israel and the Middle East.

During Trump’s campaign speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he reiterated the fact that he is a “ lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel.”

He’s also called the United Nations “utterly incompetent” and “weak,” saying that “the United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home. And it surely is not a friend to Israel.”

So what can the Middle East and Israel, specifically, expect from President-elect Trump? He has promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to stop seeing the two-state solution as the way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If that happens, the United States may well lose its reputation as an honest broker in peace negotiations.

These two promises have not been forgotten by right-wing Israeli politicians, who have hailed Trump’s win as a victory for Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policies broadly align him with the Republican ideology, did not have the best relationship with outgoing President Barack Obama, and has even been criticized for being reckless in making common cause with the Republican Party, especially with regard to the nuclear deal with Iran.

Netanyahu spent his high school years in Philadelphia (one of the few pockets that voted for Clinton in a state won by Trump) and was said to “be frightened” of both presidential candidates. But he congratulated Trump on his win, saying that “the unique bond” between our two nations “will be strengthened.”

Echoing Netanyahu’s statement, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman congratulated Trump on his win, saying he hopes to “maintain and strengthen the special relationship and friendship between the two countries.”

A regional security expert told The Jerusalem Post that there are “a few unknowns” about Trump’s policies regarding Israel’s security, which makes it very difficult for Israel and its security agencies to predict the next regional conflict.

Hamas has called on Trump to reassess US policy “in favor of the Israeli occupation” and “to work on bringing justice to the Palestinians,” but it is considered unlikely that Trump will pay much heed to their request.

Many experts have told the Post that they are concerned not only about a possible surge in violence in Israel and the West Bank if Trump follows through on his electoral promises, but that Washington, Israel’s closest ally, may now be moving closer to Moscow, which was accused of interference in the US elections.

They said that Trump’s policies in the region may be detrimental for Israel, pointing to his soft stance on Russian involvement in Syria. He has criticized Obama’s handling of the war in Syria, including against Islamic State, and stated in the October 9 presidential debate that “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.”

And while Trump stated during his AIPAC speech that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran” and promised to “stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region,” Moscow supports Tehran both militarily and diplomatically.

Meir Javendafar, an Iranian policy expert, told the Post that it is “unlikely” that Trump would break the nuclear deal with Iran, because “in order to have Iran listen, or feel isolated from additional sanctions, you need to have Europe on America’s side; but if he breaks the deal, he loses Europe.”

A regional security expert told the Post that, following the signing of the nuclear deal, Israel had the ability to focus on the immediate threat, but Trump has “a conflicting policy on Iran, which will embolden Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, that want to conclude their role in the Syrian conflict and strengthen their foothold in the Syrian Golan.”

Philip Smyth, adjunct at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a researcher at the University of Maryland focusing on Shia jihadism and militias, told the Post that “for all of his complaints about Iran taking over Iraq, Trump allowing Russia to continue an unrestricted bombing campaign in Syria may mean that Iran will extend its influence and build its proxies’ fighting capabilities.

What’s more, the groups Iran controls have stated quite openly that their next target is the Jewish state. Without any pressure from the West, Hezbollah will turn its sights back on Israel.

The news for Israel’s southern border isn’t that much brighter. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate him on his win.

Relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have warmed steadily since Sisi came to power in 2013, removing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi has since cracked down on the Brotherhood, designating it a terrorist organization.

Israel has been lobbying for an improvement of ties between Cairo and Washington, but while Cairo has been cracking down on Hamas since Morsi’s removal, Cairo has been moving closer to the Russian and Iranian sphere of influence.

While it remains to be seen how Donald Trump’s victory will affect Israel’s security, it is clear that he faces a series of difficult decisions in a region consumed by deadly turmoil in his role as the 45th president of the United States.

Related Content

 Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)
May 2, 2019
U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bennet is son of Holocaust survivor