Trump’s Behavior Towards Iran Impacts Israel
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israel may be walking into a fire with its best friend lighting the match. As President Trump continues to play chicken with the Iranian leaders, it is quite conceivable that it will be Israel and not the United States who will get burned if an actual confrontation emerges from this standoff.
The on-again off-again non-strike against Iran last week indicated that for now the President appears to have vetoed the aggressive desires of his more right-wing advisers—Bolton and Pompeo. As National Security Adviser John Bolton is in the Middle East at the moment, it is probably unlikely that there will be any more missteps by the President, other than the rumored increased sanctions, prior to the G-20 meetings next weekend in Japan.
Israel, however, ought to be very concerned as to how Iran might retaliate against Israel should tensions in the region escalate and Trump opt to strike at Iranian infrastructure. Israel is exposed to Iran’s military forces and its surrogates on the Golan Heights, as well from the Iranian missile supplies and other weapons which have been generously supplied to Hezbollah in Lebanon. While Israel’s capabilities to defend itself is not questioned, the damage and casualties that it might suffer as a result of Trump’s change in strategy could be significant. If the U.S. becomes seriously more belligerent, as has been advocated by the Administration hawks, then Israel could suffer the brunt of an Iranian or Iranian backed counterattack.
Prime Minister Netanyahu surely has made clear to the White House that he is very encouraged and supportive of the more anti-Iranian nuclear weapons’ position which he believes has been championed by the Trump Administration. Specifically, Netanyahu was pleased by Trump’s willingness to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran.
Iran-U.S. saber rattling which has been pursued over the past few weeks, opens Israel up to more danger should Iran be pushed to retaliate and impress Trump with their seriousness of their purpose. The unknown question for the Israelis will ultimately be what kind of truly reliable assurances Donald Trump is ready to provide to Israel beyond weapons, intelligence, and logistics.
Like America’s other allies throughout the world, it is clear to Israel that nothing President Trump says or commitments that he makes are promises that he definitely will keep. Trump’s foreign policy modus operandi is so personal, irrational, and unpredictable, that while Israel may well believe it has a great friend in the White House, Trump’s positive feelings towards Israel are likely to be limited by whatever he will deem to be politically expedient to his own self-interest at that moment.
N.B. It also needs to be understood that Iran may well attack ships bearing Saudi and Gulf oil, but it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Leader will authorize an actual Iranian move against their Muslim adversaries. In addition, Iran knows such a move could produce a very strong response from Washington.