WASHINGTON (CN) – As Democrats take control of the House in 2019, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser will go to Israel and to Turkey, he confirmed Friday, to discuss the abrupt pullout of U.S. troops from Syria.
The two countries had vastly different reactions when President Trump announced the troop withdrawal on Twitter last week, declaring that the United States had “won the fight against ISIS.”
While Turkey applauded the move — it has long considered the Kurdish militants whom the United States has helped arm in the fight as a terrorist group — many pro-Israel groups found themselves at odds with Trump for the first time.
Trump previously endeared himself to Israel with a number of his Middle East policies, including the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Though the president said Wednesday that Israel will continue to get $4.5 billion in annual aid from the United States to defend itself, he faced rebuke this week for the Syria withdrawal from groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The American Jewish Committee and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The U.S. State Department stood up for Israel on Friday following reports by Syrian state media that its air defense system intercepted Israeli missiles near Damascus.
Though Israel’s army said it acted in self-defense, responding “to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled Israel a threat to Syria’s sovereignty.
The U.S. State Department meanwhile said Friday that Israel has a “right to defend itself” from terrorist groups in Syria that are supported by Iran.
“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the Iranian regime’s aggressive adventurism, and we will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively,” the department said. London-based newspaper The Telegraph meanwhile reported Friday that Kurdish forces have now officially turned to the Syrian government for protection against a possible Turkish invasion of the Syrian city, Manbij.
Anticipating an offensive by Turkey, the Syrian army released a statement today saying all Syrians should join “any effort to preserve national sovereignty” and “defeat invaders.”
For his part, national security adviser John Bolton said his meetings with Turkish and Israel officials in January will involve discussions of “our continued work confronting security challenges facing allies and partners in the region, including the next phase of the fight against ISIS, as the U.S. begins to bring troops home from Syria.”
Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to discuss Syria with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “on the sidelines,” a State Department representative announced Friday, as they attend the inauguration of Brazil’s incoming far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Trump’s withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria was met with considerable criticism in the U.S. as well, from both sides of the aisle.
“The military told President Obama, if you leave [Iraq] now, the radicals that are still around are going to regenerate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Dec. 19. “Good luck getting somebody to help us fight this war in [Syria] in the future. Iran is going to be really happy and ISIS is going to get a shot in the arm and Turkey is licking their chops.”
But the president doubled down on his position during a surprise visit to troops stationed at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq this week. Trump told soldiers Wednesday it would soon be the sole responsibility of Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria to sort out any arising conflict in the region.
“We’re no longer suckers, folks,” Trump said.