President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria ought to worry Israel. Even though the American presence did not have a decisive role in Israel’s direct campaign against Iran in Syria, the United States was an important counterweight to the Russians in establishing the rules of the game in the region. Its involvement in northern Syria helped in keeping Iranian forces away from Israel’s border in the Golan Heights.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on Thursday that Israel “will continue to take very strong action against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself in Syria” should not be allowed to muffle the resounding slap in the face to the prime minister’s fawning policy toward the Trump administration. Netanyahu deliberately put all his eggs in the basket of an American president who is capricious, devoid of sentiment and concerned solely with his own interests. And now, Israel is paying for that.
The withdrawal of American forces from Syria sends a clear message to Israel, as well as to other U.S. allies in the region: Work things out for yourselves, because we’re looking out only for our own direct interests. Netanyahu can continue telling Israelis that today’s Washington is inhabited by a friendly president, unlike his predecessor. But in practice, declarations of support that aren’t backed by actions on the ground are worthless.
Netanyahu seems to have been blinded by the gestures, some of them merely symbolic, that Trump lavished on Israel, from withdrawing America from the Iranian nuclear deal and stepping up sanctions on Iran through moving the embassy to Jerusalem to humiliating Israel’s Palestinian partner and making it irrelevant. Trump gave Netanyahu reward and gestures that cost him nothing. In exchange, the president received a grateful, obedient prime minister who is no longer capable even of criticizing, much less opposing, a move that is potentially disastrous for Israel.
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Writing on Twitter Thursday, Netanyahu said that we do not “intend to lessen our efforts; we will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the US.” We can only hope the prime minister doesn’t use the period between Trump’s announcement and the actual withdrawal of American forces to embark on a military adventure up north. He must not try to conceal his diplomatic failure with Trump behind the smoke screen of battle.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.