Analysis: Chaos in Syria intensifies after US abandons Kurds

Can America's allies in the Middle East continue to depend on the US after Trump clears way for Turkish attack on the Kurds?

Yochanan Visser ,

Turkish military vehicles near border
Turkish military vehicles near border

Almost a week after US President Donald J. Trump effectively gave green light to Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch a long-anticipated military operation in northern Syria many pundits and experts are still scratching their heads trying to understand the move.

Some are wondering if Trump could also betray his staunch allies Saudi Arabia and Israel such as Jerusalem Post editor in chief Yaakov Katz who harshly criticized the leader of the free world for abandoning a key ally.

Katz wrote in his weekly column that “under Trump, American influence and power has dramatically diminished in the Middle East and is no longer a force to fear” which he says is bad for Israel.

Bad for Israel because “when America is perceived weak in the region, Israel is perceived weak” as well,” Katz thinks.

Mitchell Bard, an American Jewish conservative political analyst and the writer of several books about the Middle East and the US role in the Holocaust, went a step further and questioned Trump’s willingness to stand up for Israel whenever it would be in the position of the Syrian Kurds.

“Is there any reason to believe the president would act differently and protect the Jews?” Bard asked.

He then pointed out that former US Presidents had no problem to stand by and watch how innocent people were slaughtered just as what is happening currently in northern Syria where Erdogan’s army has already killed scores of Kurds and caused tens of thousands of them to flee their homes.

Bard gave the example of former US President Bill Clinton who didn’t lift a finger when the Serbian army slaughtered thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo during the Balkan War.

Trump has gone a step further, when he gave his permission to Turkey “to wipe out the Kurds in Syria” according to Bard

Israeli Middle East experts like Major General (Res) Amos Gilad, the former director of the IDF’s military intelligence branch concurred and said the Kurds “were abandoned in the most ruthless way” and that this should trouble Israel seriously.

Gilad claimed that Trump’s Middle East policies have been negatively affecting Israel and harshly criticized Trump’s inactivity in light of Iran’s recent aggressive actions against Saudi Arabia which vital oil installations were bombed by Iranian drones and cruise missiles in September.

“His no reaction policy when Iran attacks Saudi Arabian oil facilities or when Iran shoots down an American drone projects weakness. That is bad for Israel since American deterrence is Israeli deterrence as well,” Gilad told Israel radio.

Others, like Emily B. Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said that “there’s a growing sense that Trump is backing away from his commitments to allies.”

“I’m not sure Israel’s in the same category as Saudi Arabia and the Kurds. At least I’m hoping that we’re not in the same category. But expectations were forged through Trump’s rhetoric and his behavior, and some of his policy decisions. And the question is, to what degree will he follow through with it, if Israel really needs the United States?” Landau told The New York Times.

Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli analyst for International Crisis Group, pointed to the effect Trump’s decision could have on Iran which is preparing for an attack against Israel after the US failed to respond to the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.

“The Israelis are bracing against an Iranian attack. The defense establishment believes Iran will strike within two months. The Israeli reaction would be very different from the Saudi non-reaction, and Iran knows that. But it’s very dangerous to encourage Iran to feel safer and to give Iran more courage in its decisions,” Zalzberg said.

Seth Franzman, an analyst working for several media outlets, posed other questions.

He pointed to the fact that the US continues to work with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria in the continuing war against ISIS while Trump indicated he accepted Erdogan’s lie that the SDF is a terrorist organization which is attacking Turkey constantly.

Franzman seemed to accuse the UN of hypocrisy when he compared the organization’s reaction to the Turkish aggression to the treatment Israel receives when it defends itself against Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

The UN so far only expressed concerns about the Turkish operation and didn’t demand a ceasefire or an independent investigation into the charges that the Kurds terrorize Turkey.

The analyst also highlighted the fact that Turkey has no right under international law to invade Syria again because there’s no evidence of terrorist attacks against the country by the SDF or its main division the Kurdish YPG militia.

The Israeli government, meanwhile finally reacted to the new Turkish incursion in Syria on Thursday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu didn’t directly criticize the White House but nevertheless condemned the Turkish aggression against the Kurds and warned against “ethnic cleansing” in Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region along the Turkish border in Syria.

The Israeli PM also offered humanitarian aid to the Kurds but stopped short of announcing punitive measures against Turkey which is one of Israel’s biggest trade partners despite rocky diplomatic relations.

A group of IDF reservists insists that Israel goes further and called upon the government in Jerusalem to also provide military assistance to the Syrian Kurds.

Chances that this will happen are low, however.

Israel has been very careful not to openly intervene in the eight-year-long Syrian war and is still focused on stopping the Iranian entrenchment in the war-torn country.

Jerusalem has no interest to be drawn into the Syrian quagmire where Turkey has now captured the border town Ras al-Ayn after an offensive that killed 75 Turkish soldiers and where ISIS is using the chaos to stage a come-back.