US/World News

Ex-Israeli intelligence official says U.S. pull-out of Syria is disturbing 

(JNS) Israel has been closely monitoring Turkey’s brutal offensive against the Kurds in northeast Syria in recent days. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Turkish invasion on Oct. 10, stating that “Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”

However, Israel’s concerns with regard to the Turkish operation extend beyond Ankara’s conflict with the Kurds. Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate’s research division and director general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, told JNS that the strengthening of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated extremist Sunni forces in northeast Syria “should disturb us.” He stressed that Turkey had launched its offensive with “problematic, radical forces, who are exploiting the U.S.’s wish to leave this area.”

In addition, said Kuperwasser, who is the director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Iran could exploit the situation with its own Shi’ite militias. “Iran could fill in the vacuum left by the United States in northeast Syria, which would enable them to establish a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon,” he told JNS. “It could project onto Israel, though not immediately.”

Speaking before the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) signed a cooperation agreement with the Assad regime on Sunday night, Oct. 13, in response to the Turkish assault, Kuperwasser stated that “if the Kurds feel distressed, and American pressure can’t stop the Turks, they will try to link up with Assad, as well as with the Russians and the Iranians, with a request to cooperate with them.”

Islamic State, too, will likely benefit from events in Syria, said Kuperwasser, since “all of the others are busy with one another.” ISIS has been “hit hard,” he said, “but it is not defeated, and if pressure on it is relieved, it could come back.”

Retired four-star U.S. general Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Central Command, issued a stark warning in an op-ed for The Atlantic last week about the dangers of an ISIS resurgence. Trump’s decision to pull special forces out of northern Syria, wrote Votel, “threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability.”

The decision, he wrote, “was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most.”

While Israel can provide humanitarian assistance to the Kurds of northern Syria and also apply diplomatic pressure, said Kuperwasser, military intervention is out of the question. Asked how the rapidly escalating events in Syria might impact regional security, Kuperwasser said it is still too early to tell. “The power of the various actors, and the weight of U.S. deterrence, is being tested,” he said, adding that “this is still at an early stage. It is not yet clear where it is headed. Hence in this context, we have to wait and see what the repercussions are.”

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