Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted he will protect his country, after Donald Trump announced he is pulling all 2,000 US troops out of Syria.
The Israeli premier was reacting after White House officials announced Wednesday, the president suddenly declared victory over the Islamic State.
Trump was contradicting his own experts’ assessments and sparked surprise and outrage from members of his party, who called his action rash and dangerous.
The US began airstrikes in Syria in 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year to battle the Islamic State, or Isis, and train Syrian rebels in a country torn apart by civil war.
Mr Trump abruptly declared their mission accomplished in a tweet.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains concerned about Iranian efforts in the area, reacted in non-committal fashion after talking with Mr Trump by telephone.
“This is, of course, an American decision,” he said.
Israel will learn of the timetable and manner of withdrawal, he said, and no matter what “we will safeguard the security of Israel and protect ourselves from this arena”.
This comes after a major report by British-based Israel and Middle East think-tank BICOM, claimed that the Middle East may see a return of ISIS to the region.
Released this week, the report forecasts that with nearly 30,000 fighters working to re-establish durable support zones, raising funds and rebuilding command-and-control centres, ISIS will return as a major force in Syria and Iraq.
As a result, the Idlib demilitarised zone faces a high risk of collapse into conflict. “Idlib’s population of 3.5m is 10 times that of east Aleppo,” said Bicom. “An assault on Idlib could send more than 250,000 Syrians refugees over the Turkish border. Use of chemical weapons by the regime will likely result in airstrikes by the US, France and the UK.”
On Wednesday, as Vice President Mike Pence met top military leaders in the Pentagon, Mr Trump tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
Later, Mr Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he said it was “heartbreaking” to have to write letters and make calls to the loved ones of those killed in battle.
“Now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.
His declaration of victory is far from unanimous.
But the decision underscores the division between him and his military advisers, who have said in recent weeks that pockets of IS militants remain and US policy has been to keep troops in place until the extremists are eradicated.
Just last week, the US special envoy to the anti-Isis coalition, Brett McGurk, said US troops would remain in Syria even after Islamic State was driven from its strongholds.
Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in September that the US would keep a military presence in Syria as long as Iran is active there. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he said.
James Stavridis, a former Navy admiral who served as top Nato commander, tweeted Wednesday that “Pulling troops out of Syria in an ongoing fight is a big mistake. Like walking away from a forest fire that is still smoldering underfoot. Big winner is Iran, then Russia, than Assad. Wrong move.”
The withdrawal decision, however, is likely to be viewed positively by US ally Turkey, and comes following several conversations between Mr Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the past weeks.
The US first launched airstrikes against IS fighters in Syria in 2014. In the years that followed, the US began partnering with Syrian ground forces to fight the extremists.
The Pentagon recently said that IS now controls just 1% of the territory it originally held.
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