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Opinion The inherent weakness in Trump’s Israel pitch

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In a parade of Trump administration figures and GOP lawmakers at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee policy conference, much boasting and self-congratulations were heard. The Trump’s administration’s support for Israel at the United Nations, the decision to move the embassy and President Trump’s rhetoric directed toward the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (which remains in place). They naturally wanted to focus on the positive, but the administration’s total ineptness in confronting Iran’s non-nuclear conduct and Russia’s role in returning to a position of strength in the Middle East remain the elephants in the room.

As former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross wrote a month ago:

The great irony is that Trump has not yet established practical policies that match his words. Yes, he has slapped terror designations on Iranian entities to penalize them financially, but so did [President Barack] Obama. Moreover, Obama—for all his readiness to criticize Israel for its settlement policy and the Saudis for not seeing the need to “share” the region with the Iranians—was very responsive to both on their security needs. From financing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system to selling the Saudis tens of billions of dollars in arms, he helped both countries expand their defense capabilities during his term. U.S. intelligence-sharing and joint operations against terrorist operatives may have been even more important in terms of real threats the Saudis faced, including from the Iranians. ..
All those with whom I spoke felt the United States had conceded Syria to Russia, leaving Israel on its own to deal with the Iranian presence there. Of course, they believe that if the United States were prepared to signal its readiness to limit Iranian expansion in Syria, Russian behavior might change as well—but even though U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech on Syria last month focused on countering Iran, Israeli security officials I spoke with saw no indication that the administration is going to act on these words.

What was true then is even more true today in the wake of a military clash between Iranian and Israeli forces and an attack on U.S. forces by Russian contractors and a Russian-Iranian-backed militia, Frida Ghitis writes:

Many of the Russians — the exact number is unknown — were killed after a force made up of hundreds of Russian contractors and a militia allied with the Syrian regime attacked the Americans and their allies. When the US side came under fire, it responded with airstrikes, killing the Russians.
During normal times, the deadly incident would have topped the news, but we’re not living in normal times. This major event got lost in the swirl of domestic news that is understandably consuming the American public. … This is the worst possible time to have a President Donald Trump, who is mysteriously reluctant to criticize Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin.

In other words, we cannot be an effective ally of Israel, nor protect our own security, while simultaneously allowing Iran and Russia to dominate the region and encircle Israel with Iranian-dominated states and Iranian-backed militias. (“If you think a battle between Russians and Americans — one that, by some accounts, left some 300 Russians dead — is alarming, consider an even more extraordinary detail: The man reportedly controlling the Kremlin-linked mercenary force that was allegedly involved in the attack on the Americans in Syria is the same man who allegedly played an instrumental role in the Russian interference operation against US democracy in the 2016 election, according to his recent indictment in the Mueller investigation. The indictment listed him as a key player in an operation to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the 2016 elections.”)

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In the absence of a coherent U.S. policy toward Iran and a bizarrely indulgent stance toward Russia, Israel’s security situation is worsening, not improving. What kind of friend to Israel, then, is Trump? At best an inept one and at worst an insincere one whose personal and financial position requires that he prioritize Russia’s interests — over Israel’s and worse, over America’s.

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