Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought Sunday to calm jangled domestic nerves over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, reaffirming the ongoing cooperation between the two countries across a range of anti-Iran activities.
Israel has backed the U.S. presence in neighbouring Syria as a necessary buffer against its main adversary Iran and increasing encroachments by Russia in Middle East affairs.
Both Russia and Iran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the country’s civil war, but Mr. Netanyahu sees Israel working “full force” with its U.S. ally despite Mr. Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement on Wednesday.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
“The decision to remove the 2,000 US soldiers from Syria won’t change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
“We will continue to act against Iran’s attempt to establish a military presence in Syria, and if the need arises, we will even expand our activities there.”
He added that he wanted to “calm those concerned” after Israeli political figures said the move represents a possible blow to regional security, leaving the Jewish state to single-handedly combat the threat posed by the Iranian presence in the embattled country.
“Our cooperation with the United States continues full-force, and takes place in many fields — the operational field, the intelligence field, and many other security fields.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said that Israel will do whatever it needs to protect itself in Syria.
“It is a U.S. decision, we respect the decision made by the administration,” Danon told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday. “We have our concerns about Syria, about the threat of Iranian troops in Syria, and we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people, regardless if you have American troops, Russian troops, or any other nation.”
Although the civil war in Syria began in 2011, the U.S. did not begin launching airstrikes against IS until September 2014, and American troops did not go into Syria until 2015.
Israel has worked hand-in-glove with those forces to counter acts of Iran-inspired terrorism across the region driven by the terrorist group Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group backed by Tehran.
About 2,000 American soldiers are currently in Syria serving in a training and advisory role for Arab and Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State. In April, Trump also signaled a desire to withdraw troops from the country but ultimately backed down.
AFP contributed to this report
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