U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to be leaving Israel to deal with the Iranian presence in Syria on its own, saying on Wednesday that “they can do what they want there, frankly,” referring to Iranian forces.
The president’s remarks seemed at odds with the message that emerged from a meeting this week in Brazil between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said.
Yet, while acknowledging that he had talked with Netanyahu about the Syrian situation, Trump indicated that things had indeed changed.
“Well, I don’t see it. I spoke with Bibi,” he said. “I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look… So that’s the way it is.”
Netanyahu reportedly had implored the president to go slow in withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, a request made by others as well, that Trump has acceded to. Israeli officials have warned that a U.S. pullout would enable Tehran to build its so-called “land bridge” from Iran through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea, a strategy for regional dominance.
But the president downplayed the danger Iranian forces in Syria posed to Israel.
Referring to the pullout from the nuclear deal and the sanctions regime, he asserted that “Iran is no longer the same country. Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”
Whatever Iran’s ambitions were, they are no longer, he said.
“Iran was going to take over everything and destroy Israel while they’re at it. Iran is a much different country right now,” he said. “They’re having riots every week in every country. I’d love to negotiate with Iran… but Iran is a much different country right now.”
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who has declared that keeping Iran out of Syria is an administration priority, sat “stonefaced” behind the president while he made the comments to reporters on Wednesday, according to The Jerusalem Post.