Editor's Notes: Trump’s new order, abandoning allies

“[They] didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy…” they fought “for their land,” Trump said when asked about his decision to stab the Kurds in the back.

Ras al-Ain as it is pictured from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ras al-Ain as it is pictured from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Forty-six years after the bloody debacle known as the Yom Kippur War, Israel learned again this week what it means to be alone in its fight for survival, after the Turkish ground assault against the Kurds began just as the Day of Atonement ended on Wednesday evening.
“[They] didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy…” they fought “for their land,” US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday when asked about his decision to stab the Kurds in the back.
This is what the supposed leader of the Free World says about a people who just days earlier were considered America’s staunchest ally in Syria, helping the West defeat ISIS and putting an end to the threat it posed, not just to the Middle East but to the entire world.
Can you really rule out the possibility that the president will one day say the same thing about Israel? That we won’t hear in a few months something along the lines of: “They didn’t help us in Iraq or Afghanistan or in Korea. The Israelis just take our money and fight for their land”?
Even some of Trump’s long-time defenders in Jerusalem and Washington were at a loss for words after the extraordinary reversal of US policy: the withdrawal from Syria and the green light he gave Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruthless Turkish dictator, to launch an assault against a people who just a few days ago were America’s ally.
This isn’t the first time a politician has stabbed an ally in the back, but it is one of the first times that it was done in broad daylight and with no remorse. If there are still Israelis who think that Trump has their country’s security at the top of his concerns after what happened to the Kurds, they would do well to sober up.
Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have drawn the necessary lessons, and has stopped making claims – like he did election night on September 17 – that his leadership is needed so he can continue to derive strategic benefits from Trump. Instead, he said on Thursday that while Israel “appreciates the support from the US, it will defend itself by itself.”
What happened to formalizing a defense pact with the US – a controversial move Netanyahu was pushing before the election – which he said was vital for Israel’s security?
That was a month ago. Now we are in a new era in the Middle East, facing a new world order set by Trump. It’s called “abandoning allies.”
FOR NETANYAHU, it is a personal and political collapse of the entire raison d’être that he has given over the past three years for why he needs to remain in power: that he is the one with unprecedented influence over Trump because if it weren’t for Netanyahu, the US Embassy wouldn’t have moved to Jerusalem, America wouldn’t have pulled out of the Iran deal, and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would not have been recognized.
For Israel, the problem right now is Iran, a rogue and dangerous regime that is watching the American vacuum being created in the Middle East, and is not wasting time. US inaction in the face of Iranian aggression has only emboldened the regime, putting Israel and the Gulf states in direct peril.
There was Trump’s decision to abort a planned retaliatory strike after Iran downed a US drone in June; the Iranian takeover of oil tankers in the Gulf, which went without a response; and the Iranian cruise missile attack against a Saudi oil refinery, which the White House also seems to pretend never happened.
From Iran’s perspective, this is what has happened: instead of feeling the wrath of American military power, the regime got hit with a few more sanctions – but then saw the firing of John Bolton, its greatest critic in the White House. And then, Trump seemed to be almost begging for a meeting or phone call with President Hassan Rouhani when he came to the United Nations last month.
Held accountable for violence, terrorism and nuclear violations? Forget about it. Not with this president.
What Trump has done to the Kurds is for Iran the icing on the cake. It not only shows that the US under Trump will not embark on military adventures, but that it will also stand by idly as its ally faces death and destruction at the hands of the Turks.
In the immediate term in Syria, this will not directly impact Israel, which still seems to retain some operational freedom to go after high-value targets. But what will happen to northeastern Syria after the Turkish operation remains to be seen. Will Iran move in there as well, or will the Turks hold onto the territory? And then there is the question of ISIS, and whether the thousands of prisoners who had been jailed in the area will now be released and start setting up new terrorist infrastructure.
ON A MORE strategic level, what happened to the Kurds reminds Israel of a lesson the Jewish people have learned the hard way after centuries of persecution, war and bloodshed.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there have been countless incidents that prove Hillel’s axiom “If I am not for myself, who will be for me”: the War of Independence when the US and the UK sat on the sidelines; the 1973 Yom Kippur War; the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor; and the decision to reject George W. Bush’s diplomatic plan in 2007 and instead bomb a nuclear reactor Syrian President Bashar Assad was building in northeast Syria.
In between, Israelis have seen their country become diplomatically isolated when it needed help the most, during periods like the Second Intifada, and more recently, vis-à-vis the violence it continues to face from Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
This doesn’t mean that America is against Israel. Even with this new tension, Israeli-US military and intelligence ties continue at a high level as do diplomatic and trade relations. The US still is Israel’s best friend in the world.
Nevertheless, the new reality does mean that under Trump, American influence and power has dramatically diminished in the Middle East and is no longer a force to fear – all bad for Israel.
When America is perceived as weak in the region, Israel is perceived as weak, and when America is viewed as being strong, Israel is seen as being strong. This is because since the 1960s when John F. Kennedy started supplying Israel with strategic weaponry, Israel’s deterrence has rested on three key pillars: its powerful and technologically advanced conventional military; its purported nuclear capability; and its alliance with the United States. When one of these three pillars wavers, it automatically impacts the other two.
In the short term, this might mean that Iran will try to test Israel. Israeli officials are already openly speaking about the possibility that Tehran will attempt a Saudi oil-refinery-style attack against a similar installation in Israel.
Whether that happens – and how it plays out – will determine what comes next. Either way, the path to a larger-scale conflict between Israel and Iran has become shorter. We have Trump to thank for that.