Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Benjamin Applebaum
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2017.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday told reporters upon his return from a quick visit with the troops in Iraq, that Israel should not complain about his withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and suggested, “We give Israel $4.5 billion” – a reference to the new military aid deal struck between the Obama administration and Jerusalem – and “Israel will be very good.”

The real numbers are a tad lower than the $4.5 billion: there’s the annual $3.8 billion in straight forward military aid, which include a phasing-out feature whereby Israel may eventually use the entire aid budget in purchases from US companies only, with nothing going to its local military industry (of course, companies like Elbit and Rafael have long since partnered with US outfits to share in the aid money as American companies). Then there’s the money Congress gives Israel to develop cutting edge defensive missile technology, together with US companies – so far the overall amount for that has been around $6 billion. And there are US loan guarantees which don’t cost the US anything but make Israeli borrowing much cheaper and easier.

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Naturally, the US also benefits from the deal, with a perpetually friendly port for its forces in the region, a reported six arms depots on Israeli soil, the outrageous profits going to US companies from military contracts for weapons going to Israel. In short, it’s a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship which has endured for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol meets US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Jan. 1, 1964. / Yad Levi Eshkol via Wikimedia

Here’s the troublesome point: Israel has not complained about the American withdrawal from Syria, not publicly, anyway. The entire story had to do with Trump being baited by a reporter and going along with the proposed notion that Israel is critical of his announced troop withdrawal.

Trump responded: “I spoke with Bibi. I told Bibi, you know we give Israel 4.5 billion dollars a year. And they are doing very well at defending themselves.” The president then added: “I’m the one that moved the embassy to Jerusalem. I was the one who was willing to do that. So that’s the way it is – we are going to take great care of Israel. Israel is going to be good. We give Israel 4.5 billion a year. And we give frankly a lot more than that if you look at the books. They’ve been doing a good job.”

Bibi is on the record as supporting the Trump move in Syria, or at least not criticizing it. Speaking at his cabinet meeting, the Israeli PM said the withdrawal “will not change our policy. We are standing steadfast on our red lines in Syria and everywhere else. […] we will not be deterred from doing what is necessary.”

Netanyahu also told his ministers, one day after the IAF had struck Iranian arms depots in Syria and shooting down an Iranian plane with Hezbollah leaders on board that ”we are not prepared to accept the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria,” and “We will act against it vigorously and continuously including during the current period.”

Acting his favorite role of Mister Security, Netanyahu boasted: “In the history of the Middle East, there has never been aerial activity such as this. Aircraft ascend and descend, take off and land, and reach arenas both near and far, very far.”

In other words, Israel is using those $4.5 billion in American technology to successfully fill whatever gap is left by the withdrawing US military, thank you Mr. President. Also, when it comes to securing its Syrian border, Israel relies on its relationship with the Russian army, which has kept the Iranians and their proxy militias at a 50-mile distance from Israel.

And so, as befits President Trump’s two-year reign so far: this was fake news if ever there has been one.

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