How the Trump-Putin summit granted Israel licence to strike Syria

We still don't know the details, but we do know why Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased, Anshel Pfeffer writes

July 19, 2018 14:58

Much of the attention after Donald Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday concerned the US President’s extremely ambiguous position on claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The truth is that we still have little idea of what the two leaders talked about in that closed room — but they did seem to have a lot to say to each other about Israel.

Speaking afterwards, the Russian President said that the south of Syria should be in full compliance with the 1974 disengagement treaty between Syria and Israel.

This, he said, will bring peace to the Golan Heights, a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and provide security for the State of Israel.” Mr Trump, meanwhile, was simultaneously more expansive and less specific.

“We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades,” he said.

“I think we’ve never — never has anyone, any country, been closer than we are. President Putin also is helping Israel. And we both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu, and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel.

“So in that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. And Israel would be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.”

What are we to say about this apparent affection for Benjamin Netanyahu?

That he can boast having a better relationship with both presidents than any other world leader should come as no surprise.

The friendship with the US President goes back over three decades to when Mr Netanyahu was Ambassador to the United Nations and Mr Trump was an upcoming New York real-estate tycoon.

And even the Israeli Prime Minister’s fiercest critics agree it is hard to fault the deft way he has handled the Syria brief, particularly since Russia deployed its forces there in September 2015.

Mr Netanyahu has kept regular contact with the Kremlin and ensured Israel’s freedom to continue operating against Iranian targets.

Even though we know so little of a possible US-Russian agreement over Syria, Mr Netanyahu is already pleased. He published a video message expressing gratitude for their friendship and commitment to Israel’s security.

Israeli defence officials appear less happy. They say Mr Trump failed to extract anything more concrete than general assurances from the Russian leader that Israel’s border would remain sacrosanct and that Iranian forces would not be allowed to advance towards it.

Mr Netanyahu’s joy almost certainly lies in reports of at least two airstrikes ascribed to Israel in recent days — one near Aleppo and the second close to the Syria-Iraq border.

These are much further away than most of the attacks previously ascribed to Israel nearer Damascus, the Syria-Lebanon border and on bases near Palmyra. They suggest Mr Putin has no intention of blocking Israel’s strikes on Iranian convoys whenever it sees fit.

July 19, 2018 14:58

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