And to my Israeli brothers, let me say this: We – Israel and the Jewish people – have faced much worse situations than the US pullout from Syria, and we have survived.
The American Exodus from Syria
Israel would, of course, much prefer that the American forces remain in Syria, but their pullout is far from a tragedy and even provides a window of opportunity.
United States President Donald Trump decided, without prior warning, to bring home the American military forces deployed in eastern Syria since 2014, originally sent there to fight ISIS.
According to the media, the decision was taken during a telephone conversation with President Recip Erdogan of Turkey, in which Erdogan asked his American colleague to ensure that US army soldiers are not in the line of fire of Turkish fighters when they attack the Syrian Kurdish region. Trump soothed Erdogan’s ruffled feathers, saying that the American soldiers were in Syria to fight ISIS, not Turkey, to which Erdogan responded that the Turkish army can take care of ISIS by itself. Trump jumped at the suggestion and decided to bring the soldiers home now that ISIS is weakened, leaving the terror organization to the devoted ministrations of Turkey.
This event takes us back two years, to the last US presidential election campaign. Trump, who understands the American public extremely well, knows that 99% of US citizens don’t even know where Syria is on the map, or why American soldiers are there. They have no desire to see American soldiers killed and wounded in wars that have no direct influence on US security. That’s the reason that Trump, who is familiar with the mood of the man-in-the-US-street, promised voters that he would get the American soldiers out of Syria. In contrast to most politicians, Trump makes every effort to fulfill his election promises. The word for that is “trustworthiness,” a basic principle of business management, but one that is often ignored by the ordinary politician.
The problem is that as time stretched on, ISIS was almost completely destroyed and American forces in Syria accepted responsibility for three other vital issues: 1. Guarding the region between the Euphrates and the Syrian-Iraqi border from Iran’s schemes for a takeover and thwarting its plans for an Iranian highway stretching from Teheran to the Mediterranean Sea, both issues crucial to Israel and Saudi Arabia. 2. Guarding Syrian oil fields from Russian takeovers 3. Aiding the autonomous Kurdish enclave in northeastern Syria by offering advice, supplying weapons and intelligence and protecting the Kurds from the Turkish Army.
This, then, is the real significance of the American pullout: Iran will take over large swathes of Syrian territory, Russia will gain control of the oil fields in the eastern part of the country, east of the Euphrates, and the Kurds will be left at the mercy of the Turks.
Iran will take over large swathes of Syrian territory, Russia will gain control of the oil fields in the eastern part of the country, east of the Euphrates, and the Kurds will be left at the mercy of the Turks.
Trump’s announcement of the American Exodus from Syria came as a shock to Israelis, who anxiously asked themselves who would stop the Iranians once the US troops are gone. The Kurds, by comparison, literally trapped in their small enclave, reacted even more anxiously, because the Turkish Army, as opposed to the IDF, does not limit its operations to the dictates of an Attorney General (if there is one in Turkey, in the first place) and its officers have not yet heard the term “human rights” applied to Kurds. The Kurds see the American pullout as nothing less than a betrayal and a knife in the back, especially since the blood of thousands of Kurdish fighters was spilled in the war against ISIS in 2014-2016 – a fact no one seems to remember anymore, nor does anyone appreciate the central part they played in ISIS’ defeat.
I suggest to the Kurds to make the best of a bad situation: Sit down with Assad, and try to see to it that several Russians and Turks are present at the meeting. Try to reach the best settlement you can with him, one that includes the recognition of the Kurds’ collective rights to cultural autonomy, recognition of your language as a legal one in your area and the recognition of your right to representation in Syria’s governmental institutions. Insist on obtaining Syrian citizenship (taken away from you in 1962) so that each and every one of you has civil rights in a Syrian state. True, this is not what you hoped for, it is not an independent state, but remember that your Iraqi brothers relinquished their hopes for an independent state forming a small enclave between three hostile states, with no air route to the outside world. You, too, do not want a state subject to the mercies of the Turks, Syrians and Iraqis in order to import medication, for example, fom the outside world.
Will life at the mercy of Syria be ideal? Absolutely not, and you have learned this the hard way, but the alternative is definitely worse. Politics is the art of the possible, so go for what you can get now and if the future provides you with an opening to the sea, you can always recalculate.