Thank You, Trump, for Getting Out of Syria

The decision will force Israel to reduce its intoxication with power. Relying exclusively on military might has never worked in the long run

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U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Florida, March 23, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Florida, March 23, 2018.Credit: Carolyn Kaster,AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Suddenly, amid the sea of disgust, ridicule and anger that Donald Trump provokes, the U.S. president has made a decision that inspires hope – the withdrawal from Syria. Faced with the chorus of wails from Israel, which of course also includes more than a little schadenfreude directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we have to say thank you to Trump. Thank you for a decision that will ultimately benefit Israel, the United States and the region.

Not only did the president keep his promise, not only is he continuing his predecessor’s wise policy, but even for Israel, his decision, which has naturally been depicted here as calamitous, bodes well. It will force Israel to stand on its own two feet and reduce both its intoxication with power and its excessive strength, which are extremely destructive for both Israel and the region. This decision promises to bring Israel back down to the ground, at least in Syria. Syria first.

>> Trump's withdrawal from Syria is a slap in the face to Netanyahu | Editorial ■ Trump Has Just Betrayed the Kurds, America's Best Defense Against ISIS | Opinion ■ U.S. Exit From Syria Could Redraw the Map of the Middle East’s Blocs | Analysis

Israel’s reliance on its enormous military might and its belief that power will solve everything, combined with unreserved American support, hasn’t been good for Israel. We can only hope that the withdrawal from Syria heralds a change in direction for the Americans, not just a hasty, one-time decision.

If so, Trump will become a true friend of Israel, one who cares a great deal more about its future than everyone who arms and finances it – its false friends. Like a father who decides to end his bear hug of his spoiled child so the child will learn to cope with reality, maybe Trump will free Israel from America’s harmful aegis, a honey trap that has corrupted it to the core.

Since World War II, U.S. military interventions have usually caused cruel and unnecessary mass bloodshed. Peace and freedom are the declared goals of Washington’s wars, but those wars have never produced these ends. From Korea to Syria, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, these conflicts have left millions of people killed in vain.

So there’s no reason to mourn the United States’ departure from Syria. Leaving aside its abandonment of the Kurds, which is upsetting but predictable, keeping U.S. troops in Syria would bring neither peace nor freedom to anyone.

Israel thought it could shelter beneath the Americans’ shadow in Syria as well. Trump has put an end to this hope. First it was Russia, which halted Israel’s flights above Syria and Lebanon, and now it’s America. Israel has been left to its fate, at least in Syria.

That frightens security-minded people, who are convinced that Israel can exist only through military might. But it should encourage anyone who understands that relying exclusively on military might has never worked in the long run. Stronger powers than Israel have collapsed.

Israel will have to bomb less, and that’s good. It will also have to recognize the limits of its power, and that’s even better.

If this insight takes hold, it will cause a revolutionary change in Israel’s worldview. Israel’s chances of making peace and being accepted into the region depend on weakening it power.

Contrary to the common wisdom, Israel’s excessive power is its biggest curse. Thanks to this power, and the Americans’ blind support, Israel has been able to run riot in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, in Lebanon and sometimes even further afield. It has been able to oppress a people, build settlements, thumb its nose at the world, ignore international law, tyrannize and abuse.

Now along comes America’s most right-wing, nationalist president ever, a veteran of the friends of the Israeli occupation, and he tells his protégé: Deal with it yourself. See ya ‘round.

This is a pilot project, a Syrian pilot. Trump took a BDS-like step: He boycotted Israel. If this continues, Israel will have to choose a path it has never taken.

Trump, of all presidents, may cause Israel, unintentionally, to change direction – to understand that there’s something besides itself, that there’s a limit to its power, that it’s not the only country in the Middle East, that it’s not a chosen people, that it’s not allowed to do anything just because it can. That it needs to think about others, talk with them and make concessions. That occupation and apartheid maintained at the point of a bayonet won’t last forever.

Maybe Trump, of all presidents.

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