In the midst of all the discussion about possible U.S. responses to the alleged Syrian chemical attack, the potential for a major regional flare-up had the Israeli Government very much on edge. Now that the U.S., Britain, and France have acted, the Netanyahu Government as well as the rest of the world awaits a response from Syria/Russia/Iran. Certainly the rhetoric in public and at the U.N. remains inflammatory, but it is unclear how any of this will evolve into action—at least at this time—if at all.
As Israel observed Holocaust Memorial Day last week and prepares to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of its birth as a modern democratic state this week, there are a number of scenarios which could evolve from the current standoff with Syria/Russia/Iran. As the days have passed, the likelihood of an immediate confrontation seems less likely, but a direct or even indirect move against Israel—as an ally of those who attacked Syria remains possible.
For Israel, its attack last week against Syrian installations has been thrust on to the back pages, while the large-scale missile launch against Syrian chemical producing facilities has dominated the public discussion. Even Israel’s excessive treatment of Gaza protesters has received only limited media attention. Israel is fortunate that the potential superpower confrontation totally has distracted the focus in the region. Israel eventually will need to give an accounting.
What Netanyahu ought to recognize is that Trump’s backing and support for Israel’s actions eventually could be derailed by a Putin-Trump renewed love affair. It also could be affected by Trump’s decision in May concerning Iran on extending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Here Trump will need to deal with some of his partners in the Syria attack who have indicated that they remain supporters of the P5 +1 agreement.
The bottom line for Israel is that so far Trump has supported virtually every move made by the Israeli Government. The addition of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to the President’s team joins Israel’s friends already surrounding Trump beginning with Nikki Haley. It is a strong wall of defenders for Netanyahu’s policies.
Bibi, however, needs to be very careful how this will play out. The danger in dealing with President Trump, so far, is that in no instance of policy-making—domestic or international—is he averse from changing his mind and reversing course; witness North Korea, the withdrawal of troops from Syria, and now the TPP agreement.
Coherence, consistency, and thoughtful planning remain absent in the White House, which will be operating for most of this week in Mar-a-Lago. It is a good thing that Trump’s guest there, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, likes golf.