The Lobby Strikes Back

Will Trump reverse his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria?

By Abdelbari Atwan

A week after Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw all his forces from Syria (2,200 soldiers), following their defeat of the so-called Islamic State (Daesh), it has become clear that most of the opponents of this move – whether inside or outside the US Administration – are Israel’s friends. It is Israel’s security and stability that worries them, rather than US interests in the Middle East or the cause of defeating terrorism.

The presence of US forces in Syrian territory serves the Israeli project to eject Iranian and allied forces and advisors from the country. That, at least, is what Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes, especially after Russia started countering Israeli airstrikes on Syrian and provided advanced S-300 air defence missiles to the country.

On New Year’s Eve, Trump rounded on his media critics on Twitter, including some retired generals. This was a reference to outgoing secretary of state James Mattis, who resigned in protest at the decision to pull US troops out of Syria. But Trump did no utter a word of criticism for Netanyahu, one of his policy’ fiercest critics.

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When Mike Pompeo met Netanyahu on Tuesday during the inauguration of the new far-right president of Brazil, he focused on of how to strengthen cooperation between the US and Israel in Syria after the withdrawal of US forces. No details were released about how this was supposed happen. But the US secretary of state is likely to have tried to reassure Netanyahu and calm his growing fears, especially after the latest Israeli military assault on Syria in which 14 of the 16 missiles launched from Lebanese airspace failed to hit their intended targets east of Damascus and were shot down.

We oppose many of Trump’s policies, including his support for the judaisation of occupied Jerusalem and the war in Yemen. But his decision to withdraw from Syria, and maybe Iraq soon, was courageous, an admission of failure in a project that by his own admission cost the US treasury more than $70 billion. The continued presence of these forces has become a liability for the US. In the event of a confrontation with Iran, they would be highly vulnerable to retaliation by allied Iraq in and Syrian groups. This was underlined by the Syrian and Iraqi governments’ recent signing for of an agreement on security and military cooperation that allows Iraqi planes to attack any forces in Syria east of the Euphrates that pose a threat to both countries’ security.

Anyone doubting what we say should note the outrage caused in Iraq by Trump’s unannounced New Year’s visit to US troops at the Asad airbase. His failure to notify Iraqi authorities of his arrival, or meet with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad due to security reasons, caused a clamour for all US forces to be withdrawn from Iraq.

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Trump told the truth when he indicated in his Tweets that the US’ interventions in the Middle East – especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – have only resulted it setbacks and defeats, in addition to financial losses amounting to trillions of dollars. If he were honest, he would add that this was all done in the service of Israel.

The New Year, and perhaps all subsequent years, are set to witness an Arab and Islamic awakening that leads to the end to US hegemony, and the myth of Israeli invincibility, in the Middle East. Signs of this awakening are already clear in Syria Iraq, Yemen and Libya. They are apparent in the reversion to collective Arab action via the gateways of Damascus and Baghdad, and in the resurgence of the Resistance Axis and its branches in South Lebanon and Palestine. Time will tell.