Does Trump know what he’s doing in Israel?

Does Trump know what he’s doing in Israel?

By Ellen Ratner   
Published
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu host a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday. (Whitehouse.gov)

ISRAEL— One of the great things about being a journalist is that sometimes you are in a place where big news is happening.

This week, I was in Israel at the time that President Donald Trump announced he was pulling out of the Iran deal and during the subsequent bombing of Israel by Iran via Syria. There was also a press call with an update on the decision by the U.S. to move its Embassy to Jerusalem rather than keeping it in Tel Aviv. The move is scheduled to take place on May 14.

On our calendar, that would be the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the State of Israel. Israel works on a different calendar, and it has already celebrated its 70th anniversary year. However, flags remain all over the country. In Jerusalem, there were many lamp posts flying both the American and Israeli flags.

Unlike in the U.S., where we are quite divided, most Israelis really like President Trump. They told me he keeps his promises and that other U.S. presidents had promised to move the Embassy, but only Donald Trump is actually doing it. They are pleased about his pulling out of the Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Many in the U.S. have a different perspective. However, those people, especially on the border with Syria, are concerned about the influence of Iran as well as Russia on Israel. They see the conflict in Syria as being a proxy war with Russia and Iran.

This week’s bombing of Iranian areas in Syria by Israel was the largest in more than 40 years. Some people in both Israel and America see that Russia and Iran are keeping ISIS in check. Of the people I spoke to in Israel, most think that ISIS is gone and that Israel taught the Iranians a lesson by bombing Iran-held areas in Syria.

In addition to Syria, the White House is concerned about Iran’s actions in Yemen and especially toward Saudi Arabia. The Trump White House issued a statement this week, and it concluded: “These actions are further proof that the Iranian regime’s reckless actions pose a severe threat to regional peace and security. It is time for responsible nations to bring pressure on Iran to change this dangerous behavior.” It doesn’t look like there is going to be a summit with Iran or Syria like the one that will take place with North Korea.

Some progressives in the U.S. believe ending our deal with Iran will allow the Iranians to develop more nuclear weapons and, therefore, make Israel less secure. However, the deal is still in place with much of Europe, and they have only to gain by trading with Iran and getting the oil. The rub will come if the U.S. goes after businesses that have a European connection and continue to do business with Iran. We don’t know at this point what actions, if any, the U.S. will take against those companies. We also don’t know if this move will trigger more fighting and spark a greater refugee crisis.

What struck me was how Israelis went on with their lives. People continued to sunbathe and to swim close to the area of the bombing. They didn’t seem perturbed. Although the Israeli government ordered the opening of the bomb shelters, most people in Israel have made one room of their homes into a shelter. Many people up in the north didn’t go anywhere except to that room. It is hard to know if Iran will try the bombing raid again and what effect the Israelis’ had on Iranian targets, as neither side is talking.

May 14 will mark the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. President Trump will not attend, but he will address the transfer by video. The U.S. has operated a Consulate in Jerusalem, so the “move” is very easy to complete. Although condemned by many countries, it is largely symbolic.

In quite a shock to both Americans and Israelis, Bahrain sent out a tweet in support of Israel.   Not all people who have been working in Tel Aviv will immediately transfer to Jerusalem, but the counselor section (responsible for visas and passports) will move.

What will the bombing and the moving of the Embassy mean? It is too early to know. Maybe President Trump knows what he is doing. Maybe he doesn’t. But time will tell.

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