Embattled Netanyahu Looks To Trump For Greater US Involvement In Syria

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

President Donald Trump hosted Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday at the White House, where the embattled Israeli leader made the case for a stronger U.S. response to Iranian military activity in Syria.

Netanyahu, who is facing legal troubles at home, has pushed for Washington and Jerusalem to form a united front against Tehran. In recent months, he has warned that Israel will retaliate against Iran for what he says is an Iranian military buildup along Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon.

“I intend to discuss a series of issues with (Trump), but foremost Iran, its aggression, nuclear ambitions and aggressive actions in the Middle East, including along our very border,” Netanyahu told reporters ahead of his visit, according to Reuters.

Netanhayu’s visit comes as he is embroiled in a political corruption scandal. Israeli police recommended in February that he be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges, following a 14-month investigation into his alleged acceptance of gifts and participation in a legislative quid pro quo scheme. Netanyahu has also been questioned by police in connection with a third corruption probe.

Under increasing pressure on the domestic front, Netanyahu hopes the Trump administration can provide support for his foreign policy and national security initiatives against Iran. One area of common ground is the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which both Netanyahu and Trump have criticized for its limited duration and the fact it does not address Tehran’s ballistic missile program or its support for anti-Israel militants throughout the region.

Mutual feelings on the Iran deal aside, Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials are highly critical of Trump’s policy in Syria. They say Washington is overly focused on the campaign to defeat ISIS and, as a consequence, has allowed Iran unchecked freedom to build proxy forces in the country.

Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy and a former ambassador to Washington, said in February that Trump has been too soft on Iran’s infiltration of southern Syria, which borders the Israel-controlled Golan Heights.

“The American part of the equation is to back us up,” the American-born diplomat said. “America did not ante up in Syria. It’s not in the game.”

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For its part, the Trump administration’s stated Syria policy has vacillated between the fight against ISIS and a long-term “stabilization” operation aimed at removing Bashar al-Assad and countering Iranian influence. In his most recent public remarks on the matter, Trump appeared to prefer the narrowly defined anti-ISIS mission.

“We’re there for one reason: to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS and to go home,” he said during a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month. “We’re not there for any other reason.”

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