US troops in Syria
US troops in Syria Reuters

Last week, the American Jewish Congress hosted a special Executive Briefing Call with Major General (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This exclusive phone conversation, made available to the public, addressed such topics as President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the role of Iran in the region, and Hezbollah activity on Israel’s northern borders. The call was hosted by American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen.

During his 36 years serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Major General Yaakov Amidror also served as Director of the Intelligence Analysis Division and as the Military Secretary for the Minister of Defense. Today, Amidror is a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) and a Distinguished Fellow of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).

The American Jewish Congress hosts its Executive Briefing Calls in order to connect its audience with significant players in U.S. and Israeli politics, the American Jewish community, and beyond. Previous briefings have featured Members of Congress, journalists, and diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

The discussion focused largely on President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw American troops from Syria and the implications this policy move might have on Israel. Major General Amidror highlighted the complexity of the power balance in Syria, and how a withdrawal of American forces may be in Iran’s favor.

“The decision of the Americans to pull out means that the whole Kurdish area will be under threat from Turkey,” General Amidror explained. “And the question is: Is it good for the Middle East or is it bad for the Middle East? The more the Turks will be inside Syria, the less willing Assad will be to get rid of or to contain or to limit the Iranians, because it is a balance between these forces, and we don’t know what the reaction of the Russians will be.”

He added that the withdrawal will likely throw off U.S. allies who were not prepared to be left on their own. “It’s very bad for allies who cannot defend themselves,” he said. “Israel is in a unique situation because we decided in ’48 that Israel would build its capability to defend itself, by itself…Other allies who did not make this decision or cannot make this decision, or found themselves in a different situation like the Kurds and some Arab countries, they are hesitating, and they don’t know how to react to this decision.”

Discussing the subject of American foreign policy decisions being unpredictable, including for allies, Mr. Rosen said, “I think the [democratic] system maybe is being tested, but so far it seems to be holding up…That means all the planning and all the deals you can make – regarding Syria, Iran, everything else – can be blown up post-any election, in Israel and in America. So it’s a little bit of an unstable time.”

General Amidror sees Iran as the key reason behind many of the challenges facing the region. This also includes the threat posed by Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria. The discovery and destruction of Hezbollah terror tunnels by the IDF sends a strong message to Hezbollah and Iran: “[The tunnels] gave them their guarantee that, in the case of a war, they would have something that might change the situation to their side…The fact that we succeeded to neutralize these tunnels means that Hezbollah understands that (a) they lost a very important card and (b) that they are more exposed than they thought they were.”

Although it is a gradual process, General Amidror is optimistic about thawing relations between Israel and Sunni Arab nations and cooperation to resist Iran. In today’s Middle East, “Arab states understand that for their benefit – not for the sake of the Palestinians and not for the sake of Israel – for their benefit, for their interest, they have to have a different kind of relations with Israel.”

The American Jewish Congress is grateful to General Amidror for offering his expertise and insight into this issue, rooted in his remarkable Middle East security career. The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is complex and constantly shifting; in this time of rapidly accessible information and misinformation, conversations like this take on the important role of providing deeper understanding to the public straight from the sources that matter.