Jewish and pro-Israel groups reacted unfavorably to President Donald Trump’s decision on Sunday evening to withdraw U.S. forces from northeast Syria, ahead of an expected invasion by Turkey against Kurdish forces.
The White House announced the withdrawal following a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, eliciting alarm from the Syrian Kurds, whom Erdoğan considers to be terrorists.
One of Trump’s staunchest defenders, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), blasted the decision as shortsighted, impulsive and irresponsible in its treatment the Kurds — a loyal U.S. ally — as well as a move that will prove beneficial to ISIS and Iran, the world’s foremost state-backer of terrorism.
Graham called Trump’s action “a stain on America’s honor.”
“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos,” he said. “Iran is licking their chops. If I’m an ISIS fighter, I have a got a second lease on life.”
Graham added: “If we abandon them, good luck getting anyone else to help America.”
Other Republican Trump supporters who piled on included Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who called it “a huge mistake;” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), who said it was “a grave mistake;” and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Ne.), predicted that “this bad decision will likely result in the slaughter of allies.”
Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted: “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” Haley tweeted. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.”
Trump “is allowing the Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks,” televangelist Pat Robertson said on his telecast. “I want to say this with great solemnity — the president of the United States is in danger of loosing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.”
Trump’s decision was met with condemnation from congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Minutes apart, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell called on Trump to reverse on Syria. McConnell said that “a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime;” Pelosi said the “decision … sends a dangerous message to Iran and Russia.”
“A U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria would embolden Iran’s hold on Syria, endangering Israel and U.S. interests,” national president of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein told JNS. “As Senator Lindsey Graham noted today, Iran’s power was enhanced when former President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq—and the same would happen in the event of a troop departure from Syria.”
“In addition to empowering Iran on Israel’s northwest border, the dangers of withdrawal include sending a message that the United States may be willing to abandon allies who are also a strong supporter of Israel; the danger that the Kurds may then ally with Iran; an ISIS resurgence that threatens the U.S. homeland; a potential escape of thousands of ISIS prisoners if their Kurdish guards need to turn their attention to fending off an attack from Turkey; and increased instability,” he explained. “We hope that the president will reassess this situation.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which houses the Kurdistan Project, told JNS: “We already have seen, through Erdoğan’s brutal treatment of the Kurds in Afrin, that this is going to lead to a horrendous human massacre and possibly a genocide.”
“On the foreign-policy level, we are not thinking of the future, but only the moment. Why would anyone want to ally themselves with us if we don’t remember who our friends have been?” Stern asked. “I understand and fully appreciate what President Trump has done for Israel, but as the great sage Hillel once said, ‘If I am not for myself, who am I for? But if I am for myself, alone, what am I’?”
The Syrian Democratic Forces echoed a sentiment of betrayal.
“Based on our confidence in the #US efforts in the Security Mechanism agreement, we implemented all our commitments to remove military fortifications between Tal Abyad & SereKaniye, withdraw combat forces with heavy weapons, risking a security vacuum [sic] as a result of the agreement,” tweeted the official Twitter account of the Syrian Democratic Forces in a thread, which warned that a U.S. withdrawal would undo victories against the Islamic State, including the release of tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners who are being held captive by the SDF and whom European countries have refused to take back despite such appeals from the United States.
Many fear that Israel could be adversely affected by the withdrawal.
“That Israel has always depended on itself to ensure its security has been a constant, and it goes without saying that it has clearly looked at the various scenarios that may lie ahead,” B’nai B’rith International told JNS.
“We are appalled by President Trump’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” said Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman. “All of us owe a deep debt of gratitude to American troops, who put their lives on the line to defend us, and we certainly want them safe and home as quickly as possible.”
“Allowing Turkey to invade Kurdish territory in northern Syria will result in thousands of Kurdish deaths, deprive millions of their rights, and will prevent Kurdish forces from battling ISIS and from continuing to detain the tens of thousands of ISIS fighters currently in their custody,” he added.
“This decision has created a dangerous and unstable situation in the Middle East, similar to Trump’s December 2018 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria,” said Jewish Democratic Council of America chairman Ron Klein, a former Florida Democratic congressman. “What we said at the time remains true today — ‘Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is a betrayal of our allies and a boon to our adversaries. It’s not “America First” in any respect. Rather, it’s an “Iran and Russia First” policy’.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
During the Syrian civil war, U.S and Turkish ground and air patrols had created a security area that spans more than 78 miles along the Syria-Turkey border.
Erdoğan said on Saturday that the invasion could start “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”
Other sources contributed to this report.