Israel Faces Syria, ISIS, Iran, plus Trump
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israel has a genuine fear of the unknown. Historically Israel has opted to resolve its geopolitical problems by itself. It has always needed weapons and materiel but never has sought military assistance to fight its wars. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, Israel’s policies have been based on the doctrine of “give us the tools and we will finish the job.”
This explains why the ten year $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached with the Obama Administration last year was so critical to Israel’s future safety and security. This is true regardless of all the absurd personal hostility that existed between the two Governments for which Bibi had at least as much to be blamed for as did Obama. Now as Israel begins to deal with a totally unpredictable new president in the White House and his so called team, it should be thanking the Obama team every day that at least this arrangement was completed on Obama’s watch.
Israel is slowly and reluctantly beginning to grasp that it is dealing with an unpredictable, erratic, and disorganized White House. Never has any Government, friend or foe, had to approach a decision-making system that is so totally irrational. For Israel many of the issues with which Trump has been engaged over the past weeks have posed direct and indirect concerns to the Government for two reasons. First, they do not know what the future implications will be or what they mean, and second, when will the time come—if it has not happened already—when Israel will also be caught right in the middle of this erratic system.
The U.S. attack on Syrian chemical weapons sites or air base has left Israel potentially vulnerable to Syrian or Hezbollah orchestrated distractive activity on the Golan Heights or in the North. Such maneuvers may help Syria’s own domestic public’s questioning whether Assad remains fully in control. Russia’s potential rearming or upgrading of Syrian systems and reinforcement of its Syrian allies could also eventually to affect Israel.
Netanyahu’s sense of trust for Putin may actually appear even to be more normal than Putin’s dealings with Washington, but it continues to be unclear how positive or reliable that will remain. The saber rattling in the Far East with North Korea has potential fall out as well assuming that there continues to be a nexus between Iran and North Korea’s nuclear development programs. It is too early to tell if Trump struck an economic trade deal with China contingent on their taking a more activist role regarding North Korea.
The Trump Administration has flipped-flopped its story on Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement almost daily. The President and Secretary Tillerson appear to be reading statements either one day ahead or one day behind each other with respect to how the U.S. should be viewing Iran. Israel has no idea which view is now dominant in Washington nor does anyone else listening to the confused flow of information from Washington.
What Netanyahu does know is that Israel is scheduled to receive its first clear signal from Trump on May 1 at which point the President is statutorily required to inform Congress that he is not moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem due for security reasons, or else the embassy moves. Given the hoopla that Trump made about this decision and the walking back that has occurred since January, it seems probable that Trump will defer this decision; although no one likely will know for ten days. It also should be noted that Trump is scheduled to meet Mahmoud Abbas on May 3.
The disturbing international chaos should be of concern to Israel, transcending the immediate situation although Bibi seems to be fixated on its romance with the Trump team. Netanyahu must understand how trivial Israel is in the context of other global issues and such crushing domestic issues such as extending the congressional continuing budget resolution, lifting the national debt ceiling, and avoiding federal government shutdown.