US Steps Back in Syria

John Bolton, Pres.Trump’s security adviser, came to Israel and made two significant statements.  First, he said that notwithstanding the US’s decision to withdraw from Syria, this will not affect any commitments that the US has to Israel.  Second, he stated that the US will not implement the planned withdrawal from Syria until the safety of its Kurdish allies in Syria is assured.

This latter statement caused a major furore in Turkey.  Pres. Erdogan addressed the Turkish Parliament and said that all the Kurdish forces in Syria (the YPG and others that are US allies) are in fact terrorists, and Turkey makes no distinction between them and the IS terrorists.  Of course, this was meant to be a message to John Bolton, who then cancelled his planned visit to Turkey and flew straight back to the US.

It can now be said that some sense had been inserted into Trump’s peremptory decision to withdraw from Syria, that would have left a  vacuum.  Now the vacuum will not be left at least until Turkey’s ambition to attack the Kurds and destroy them has been blocked.  Also, the question of the entry of the Syrian Army into the Kurdish self-governing area of Rojava is reconsidered.  Certainly the Kurds would prefer to return to Syrian control than be attacked and massacred by the Turkish Army.  But, even that would essentially destroy their self-determination.  At present everything lies in the balance while the US troops remain on the ground.

During his visit to Israel, PM Netanyahu had several amicable meetings with Bolton.  During the talks he tried to convince the US to go one step further, after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and recognize Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights.  These were captured by Israel in the 1967 War from Syria and were subsequently annexed by Israel.  Such was the enmity of Syria that Israel was never going to allow the Syrians back on these heights overlooking the whole of the Galilee region of Israel.  After many brave Israeli soldiers died to capture the heights against heavy Syrian attacks, such a move was inconceivable.  Netanyahu believes that now, with Syria in total disarray and with Assad reasserting his onerous control over Syria, this would be a good time for the US to recognize Israel’s sovereignty there.

It should be noted that the Golan was part of Biblical Israel, and in fact there are the ruins of several towns there mentioned in the Bible, including Gamla, that is an incredible place to visit.  It sits on a promontory jutting out into a large valley.  It was destroyed by the Romans after a siege as described in Josephus’ “The Jewish Wars.”  If not for historical reasons, for security reasons, Israel can never allow these heights to return to the control of a bitter enemy.