A top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Washington needs to do more to help Israel counter Iranian moves in Syria, accusing President Donald Trump’s administration of standing on the sidelines as the war against the Islamic State winds down.
Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy and a former ambassador to Washington, told Bloomberg the U.S. is 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 U.S.-born Israeli diplomat said. “America did not ante up in Syria. It’s not in the game.”
Oren’s criticism comes on the heels of a large-scale exchange of fire between Israeli air forces and Iranian-backed Syrian air defenses over the weekend. After an Iranian drone reportedly crossed into Israeli airspace on Saturday, Israel launched air strikes against 12 targets inside Syria, including four that it said belonged to Iranian forces. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile shot down an Israeli fighter jet, the first lost to enemy fire since Israel’s first war in Lebanon in 1982.
It was the worst confrontation along the Syria-Israel border region since 2006, and one that threatens to pull the U.S. and Tehran’s Russian ally even further into Syria’s civil war. The Trump administration has already said a long-term military presence in Syria is needed to counter Iranian ambitions in the region, but pressure to confront Iran is building as Tehran steps up its activity along Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassadors to Israel under former President Barack Obama, says Saturday’s confrontation should be the impetus for Washington to “upgrade its involvement” in the situation.
“As it happens, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is about to embark on a tour of Middle East capitals,” he wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “It is a perfect opportunity to stop in Israel, coordinate substantive policy and strategic messaging with the Prime Minister, and execute a joint U.S.-Israeli strategy on other stops.”
Martin Indyk, another former ambassador to Israel who is now a vice president at the Brookings Institution, had much stronger words for the Trump administration, accusing it of ignoring Israel’s concerns about Iranian activity in Syria.
“When it comes to political symbolism Trump is a hero,” he tweeted Sunday. “When it comes to Israel’s strategic interests in Syria he’s MIA.”
Indyk and other pro-Israel voices in Washington criticized Trump for not immediately denouncing the Iranian drone incursion. They have also said Washington’s “inaction” in Syria has forced Israel to rely on Russia to restrain Tehran.
About 24 hours after Saturday’s confrontation, the White House released a statement that reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend against Iranian incursions and called on Tehran to “cease provocative actions” in the region. White House officials said concerns about Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security are overblown.
“We support Israel’s security, and the idea that we are ‘on the sidelines’ when its security is threatened is very far from the case,” National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said, according to Bloomberg. “We have a very close relationship with our Israeli national security counterparts at all levels.”
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