After the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany two weeks ago, Donald Trump announced that his major diplomatic win was a cease fire agreement in southern Syria with his new buddy Vladimir Putin. The problem with that is if there's any US ally that isn't going to accept a Syria deal that keeps the Assad regime in Damascus it's Israel, and PM Benjamin Netanyahu is now openly blasting the deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday that Israel opposes the cease-fire agreement in southern Syria that the United States and Russia reached because it perpetuates the Iranian presence in the country.
The prime minister noted that in his meeting with Macron, he made it clear to the French president that Israel was totally opposed to the cease-fire plan.
A senior Israeli official who asked not to be named due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter said Israel is aware of Iranian intensions to substantially expand its presence in Syria. Iran is not only interested in sending advisers to Syria, the official said, but also in dispatching extensive military forces including the establishment of an airbase for Iranian aircraft and a naval base.
"This already changes the picture in the region from what it has been up to now," the senior official said.
Netanyahu discussed the cease-fire deal with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone Sunday night.
By openly voicing his opposition to one of the most significant moves the United States and Russia have made in Syria in recent months, Netanyahu made public a major disagreement between Israel and the two great powers that had until now been kept under wraps and expressed only through quiet diplomatic channels.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed on the cease-fire on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg last week. In a tweet published shortly after the truce came into effect last week, Trump tweeted: "We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!"
The U.S.-Russian deal included establishing de-escalation zones, otherwise known as safe zones, along Syria’s borders with both Jordan and Israel. Over the past month, Israel had held talks on this agreement with senior American officials, including Brett McGurk, America’s special envoy for the battle against ISIS, and Michael Ratney, the special envoy for Syria, both of whom visited Israel several times.
During these talks, Israel presented a list of demands and voiced several reservations about the emerging agreement. Inter alia, Israel said that the de-escalation zones must keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders and must not enable Iran to consolidate its presence in Syria. Israel also told the Americans it objected to having Russian troops policing the cease-fire in the safe zones near its border.
Of course Bibi is pissed. Here he was finally getting what he wanted with a GOP president, rather than Obama, and Trump is screwing him over worse than Obama ever dared to dream of doing. Trump giving into Russia and Assad on Syria is not exactly what Israel had in mind when Netanyahu and his party were celebrating Clinton's loss. They thought they were going to get the keys to the kingdom, but Netanyahu's demands have been completely sidelined in favor of Moscow and Riyadh.
Like most of our allies, Israel is finding out that America first under Trump really means Russia first, and it's coming at the expense of our other long-time allies.
I'm betting they wish they had Hillary Clinton to deal with about right now.