by Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
The key to minimizing the damage from America's exit from Syria can be found in both Washington and Moscow.
Contrary to popular belief, U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to end America's military presence in Syria in the near future was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. The opposite is true. This is the implementation of a plan that has been formulated for some time, one that was anchored in Trump's original position to disengage from the centers of conflict, war and crisis that he does not believe to present an immediate and tangible threat to American security.
Ever since his election campaign, Trump's view has been that U.S. involvement in Syria, initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama's White House in 2015, embodies the dangerous potential in getting involved in a bloody conflict. It is true that as long as the Islamic State group constituted a central terrorist threat in Syria, the president accepted America's continued presence in the arena, provided it remained limited to the northeastern region, with the Kurdish enclave at its center. Now, with the murderous organization in significant decline, the decision to disengage is a natural move for Trump, who has made his desire to reduce the scope of America's overall commitment and involvement overseas abundantly clear.
The president has repeatedly reiterated his intention to leave Syria and he did not set any preconditions, such as achieving a comprehensive diplomatic resolution in Syria, for the exit of foreign forces from the territory.
In other words, in Trump's minimalist view of the array of U.S. interests, Syria does not meet the requirement for necessary direct military intervention. Against this background, the apocalyptic warning that the disengagement from Syria will cause massive damage to the U.S.'s overall standing appears to be without basis.
Was the minimal presence of 2,000 American military advisers, counselors and security officials in a narrow strip in Syria's northeast enough to project power and dramatically influence what transpires not only in Syria but throughout the region? Moreover, will the withdrawal be enough to undermine the prestige of the American superpower on a front defined by Washington as marginal from the outset and a time in which the White House has yet to delineate the Kremlin a sworn global enemy? It is for this reason that, although one cannot dismiss the price the Kurdish minority may be forced to pay as a result, the U.S. troop withdrawal is not expected to result in any tectonic fractures in the general Syrian court.
And as for Israel, America's disengagement was predictable and could provide Iran with greater room to maneuver and engage in threatening actions. The key to minimizing the damage from America's exit from Syria can be found in both Washington and Moscow. We cannot rule out the possibility that the U.S. administration will decide on taking a conciliatory and trust-building diplomatic step, such as throwing its support behind the initiative now being forged in the Senate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. As for the Kremlin, the U.S. troop withdrawal could lead to Russia expanding and deepening its strategic coordination with Israel in Syria's skies, not necessarily out of a sense of affinity or excessive sensitivity to Israel's security concerns but rather to ensure the system of checks and balances aimed at preventing Iran's excessive empowerment in the Syrian sphere is preserved.
Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
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