President Trump will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday the opening day. He will then chair a much anticipated session of the Security Council on Wednesday at which he has announced he intends to focus the meeting on Iran. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address the GA on Thursday with Bibi and Trump scheduled to meet before Netanyahu returns home on Sunday.
While the Israelis may expect that the focus of their bi-lateral sideline meeting will focus on Iran, there are likely to be a number of other matters which may ultimately have more immediate importance for Netanyahu. With respect to Iran, Trump and Netanyahu may well be on the same page. It is with respect to Syria, Iraq, and Russia that Netanyahu may discover the President not completely in agreement with Israeli military and political strategy.
Neither the U.S. nor Israel is interested in a continuance of the escalating tension along the Israeli-Syrian border. While Russian established port in Latakia seems to have been done, the issue of Iran and/or Russian existence approaching the Golan Heights is both disturbing and destabilizing to Israel.
Israel clearly experienced a tense moment last week when a Russian military plane was shot down. The plane apparently actually was attacked when Syria, sought to engage Israeli fighters which had destroyed large supplies of military equipment at the Damascus airport, inadvertently shotting down the Russian plane carrying 15 people. While there are efforts on both the Israeli and Russian sides to downplay the incident, this event suggests the likelihood of increased possible future military confrontations. Any incursion by Israel against possible Iranian forces in Iraq, will also clearly present all parties with a case of heightened anxiety. In all of these scenarios, Netanyahu is unlikely to have confidence in predicting Trump’s response.
There is a further political issue which undoubtedly be raised by Trump which already has been suggested in the Israeli media as well as in some Anglo-Jewish papers. The President is reportedly miffed with the unenthusiastic political support he is receiving from most of the American Jewish community. It is unclear whether this relates to substantive support on issues, to campaign contributions, or what Trump believes is a lack of appreciation for what he has done for Israel. In contrast to the Evangelical community where Trump—and Israel–continue to receive enormous backing and support for his Mid-East policy, the President believes that American Jews are ungrateful.
The problem with this portion of the Trump and Netanyahu conversation is that they actually agree in this analysis about the position of many American Jews. Unfortunately for these leaders, they fail to accept or comprehend that at least 70% of American Jews generally oppose the President as well as the policies of Netanyahu’s right wing Government.
While there is significant recognition of the Trump Administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, many Diaspora Jews view this as strictly a symbolic, albeit appreciated gesture. There is far greater concern that the Trump Administration has failed to defuse the growing agitation among Palestinians. Israel’s Government appears to have virtual carte blanche from the U.S. to conduct its affairs both in Gaza, on the West Bank, or with regard to settlements, with virtually no American constraints.
There is one further factor both with respect to geopolitical issues as well as the Israel specific ones which demands attention. If the Russians should at any point raise serious red flags to Trump with regard to Israeli actions, Netanyahu ought to recognize that Trump may quickly back away from his apparently cozy relationship with Israel. His clear priority relationship is with Putin. Bibi could be dumped by Trump in a instance to acquiesce to Russian objections.
Regardless of what their press statement will declare, this Trump-Netanyahu meeting is not likely to be without its tense moments.