Middle East in Focus
The U.S. withdrawal from Kurdish-controlled Syrian territory continues to impact U.S. allies in the region, as they come to terms with the possibility that the Trump administration may not always be there for them. The latest to consider that possibility are Israeli observers, who for the last two years have been some of President Trump’s staunchest supporters. Ironically, the Israeli government is suffering its own crisis of credibility following public declarations of support for the Kurds by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which have not been pursued.
Reports that the Israeli PM offered Israeli assistance to Kurds emerged soon after the U.S. troop withdrawal from northern Syria and the beginning of the Turkish incursion into Kurdish territory in Syria. The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon and others reported last week that, following those developments, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Thursday ‘strongly condemning’ the Turkish military action and offering humanitarian assistance to the Kurds.... Israeli officials indicated that Israel was willing to render any non-military aid the Kurds might need, though they would not be more specific. Earlier in the day, at the 46th annual Yom Kippur War memorial service, Netanyahu did not mention US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria but seemed to have it in mind when he said that Israel can ultimately only rely on itself.”
However, there is little evidence that the Israeli government has backed up its rhetoric with any concrete actions on the ground, which has led some, including Times of Israel’s Esor Ben-Sorek to remind the Israeli government of its obligation to do so, especially in light of what he argues is their shared struggle: “the Kurdish leaders reminded us of the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries…. Jews, especially in Israel, sympathize with the Kurdish fight to establish a free homeland. It is our obligation to provide help and aid in any way we can to help them to secure their own land.... It is only a question, at this dangerous time in history, of what we can do to help the Kurds and to relieve them from Turkish oppression and massacre. It is our mitzvah, our sacred obligation, to come to the aid of friends who are enduring oppression, persecution, execution and exile. We cannot… we dare not refuse their request for Israel’s intervention in an effort to save their lives.”
Some Israeli commentators have made appeals for supporting the Kurdish cause by drawing attention to what the Kurds have been able to accomplish in terms of religious tolerance. That narrative appears to bring together observers of various political stripes, as demonstrated by this op-ed for the far-right Arutz Sheva’s Giulio Meotti, who notes that “the Kurds were creating something that guaranteed freedom of expression and assembly for religious and ethnic communities, direct democracy, equality, secularism. In Rojava there are Muslims, Christians, syncretists, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Turkmen.... The Kurdish regional government has shown the utmost respect for the minorities that have been widely persecuted in other areas of Iraq. That's why Turkey, Qatar, Arab fanatics and others wanted to destroy Rojava.... 600 Kurds were killed in order to free that damned city. The Kurds opened their towns (like Erbil) to Christians displaced by Islamic henchmen. Only among the Kurds do you find Western volunteers who went to fight, not for the Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, but against him.”
Aware that a military intervention on the part of Israel may be out of question under the present circumstances, Uri Heitner asks in a recent op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth whether Israel cannot and should not do more politically and diplomatically to support the Kurds: “Israel must not militarily intervene in Syria. It is not a superpower and it is not its job to police the Middle East.... But Israel should be at the head of a worldwide political struggle against Turkey and for the Kurds. Israel should be raising the issue at the United Nations and at every other international institution – and move towards sanctions against Turkey. Israel's ambassadors all over the world should send a message to their host countries calling upon them to condemn Turkey. Israel should call for direct action such as severing diplomatic ties with Turkey.... This Turkish invasion in Syria would have not occurred if it were not for the Americans abandoning the Kurds to their own fate. The U.S. has shown itself to be a weak ally, a fact that should spur Israel to rethink its dependence on it, particularly while Donald Trump occupies the White House.”
Embedded in the closing sentences of Heitner’s analysis is also a fear that has gripped Israel as of late: i.e. the possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump may abandon its ally in a time of need. That sentiment is also shared by Norman Bailey, who, writing for Globes, fears that “The US president's feckless behavior in the Middle East arena has multiplied the threat Israel faces from Iran and its proxies.... Forget whether Iran will or will not develop nuclear weapons, which it would not have used against Israel in any case because of unpredictable fallout. The Saudi attack, carried out partially by low-flying missiles invisible to defensive systems, demonstrated that Israel is now in danger of a non-nuclear but devastating attack by Iran at any time.... At a stroke, Trump's outrageous behavior has not only and perhaps irretrievably damaged the geopolitical position of the US but has put Israel at existential risk. Congratulations, Mr. President, what do you plan to do for an encore?”