Former U.S. Ambassador Warns Trump Might Ditch NATO, 'Turning America's Back' on Israel

Dan Shapiro tells Haaretz a withdrawal from the influential alliance would 'embolden an aggressive Russia, and its appetite would not be limited to European targets, but would also extend deeper into the Middle East'

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Soldiers take part in an exercise of the U.S. Army Global Response Force in Hohenfels, Germany, August 26, 2015.
Soldiers take part in an exercise of the U.S. Army Global Response Force in Hohenfels, Germany, August 26, 2015.Credit: Matthias Schrader/AP

A second term for U.S. President Donald Trump would threaten the future of NATO, embolden Russia’s role in the Middle East and put Israel in a tough situation, says former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, ahead of the 2020 election.

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Shapiro told Haaretz that “NATO would be unlikely to survive a second Trump term,” noting that the 45th president has expressed interest in the past in withdrawing the United States from the influential alliance, which has served as a deterring force against Russia ever since the days of the Cold War.

According to Shapiro, the impact of such a withdrawal would “embolden an aggressive Russia, and its appetite would not be limited to European targets, but would also extend deeper into the Middle East.” Two of Trump’s former senior advisers – his former chief of staff, retired General John Kelly, and his former National Security Adviser John Bolton – have stated that Trump expressed interest in pulling out of NATO.

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National Security Adviser John Bolton stands alongside Donald Trump as he speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office, May 17, 2018.Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP

In September, the New York Times reported that Trump has continued in recent months to talk about his desire to leave NATO, despite warnings from his own senior advisers that such a move would be viewed as a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If that were to actually happen, Shapiro warned, Israel “would be forced to draw closer to Russia to protect its interests as the entire world would understand, correctly, that the United States had turned its back on its closest allies and is turning inward.”

Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration and has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in Tuesday’s election, said “Israel has proudly taken its place in the community of democratic nations, and NATO is the preeminent alliance of democracies against the common threats they face, from Russian aggression to terrorism.”

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a mutual defense pact that was established in 1949 and today includes 30 countries, all of whom have agreed to Article 5, which requires members to come to the aid of any other member under attack.

NATO has also operated outside of Article 5, offering armed assistance in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and its strength is regularly being challenged by Russia and China who wish to weaken the alliance for geopolitical advantage.

Turkish challenge

Former Israeli envoy to the European Union, Oded Eran, who also represented Israel in contacts with the NATO leadership in Brussels, told Haaretz that “while Israel participates in military exercises of NATO, as can other states, it doesn’t amount to any assistance by NATO to Israel’s direct defense.”

Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan leave the stage after family photo during the annual NATO heads of government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019.Credit: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Eran, who is currently a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv based Institute for National Security Studies, added that the biggest challenge to increasing Israel’s cooperation with NATO is Turkey, a “rogue member” of the alliance, “which is actively trying to block Israel in NATO’s Mediterranean dialogue.”

Shapiro said that although Israel isn’t a member of NATO, an American withdrawal from the alliance, as Trump has proposed, would also harm some cooperations between Israel and American forces stationed in Europe. He argued that U.S. troops based in European countries, which “have been the operational partners in joint training” with the Israeli army, would likely return home in such a scenario.

As a result of losing that troop presence, “Israel might have to shift its joint training and operations with the U.S. military to forces in Central Command, based in the Gulf, and the leading U.S. military partner with Arab militaries.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 7, 2015.Credit: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Eran told Haaretz that another key question that will be impacted by the results of Tusday’s vote will be Washignton’s relationship with Turkey. President Trump has maintained close cooperation with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has praised him as a strong leader, despite his anti-democratic steps in recent years. “I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you’re not supposed to because everyone says ‘what a horrible guy,’ but for me it works out good,” Trump told journalist Bob Woodward earlier this.

Biden, on the other hand, said in January 2019 that he would support “opposition leadership” in Turkey “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, but by the electoral process.” Erdogan over the summer slammed Biden as an “interventionist” over the comments.

According to Eran, Turkey’s ability to work against Israel inside NATO and other international organizations will be affected by the response it receives from the United States, and the broader relationship that the next president will have with Erdogan.

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