This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull all American troops out of Syria will not stop Israel’s efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent presence in Syria.
“The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy,” Netanyahu said on December 23.
“We will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there,” he added.
Trump faced wide criticism with his surprise announcement on December 19 that he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, where they have been since 2015, supporting an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters battling against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.
Many critics see a U.S. pullout as a betrayal of the Kurdish forces and say a withdrawal will hand Iran and Russia victories in Syria.
Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war since 2011, with Russia and Iran backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States and Turkey have supported differing rebel groups.
After Trump revealed his plans, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced his resignation in protest to aspects of the president’s policies. The top U.S. envoy to the global coalition to counter Islamic State, Brett McGurk, also announced his resignation.
Netanyahu said cooperation with the United States would remain in place, even with a U.S. pullout.
“Our cooperation with the U.S. will continue in full and finds expression in many areas: Operations, intelligence and many other security spheres,” he said.
Israeli media quoted the country’s army chief of general staff, Gadi Eisenkot, as cautioning against overstating the effects of a U.S. withdrawal, saying the Israeli army has been operating on its own along the border region with neighboring Syria for decades.
According to a report by Israeli Channel 10 TV, Netanyahu told ministers from his Likud Party that he will discuss the U.S. plans with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when the two visit Brazil next week for the inauguration of President-elect Jair Bolsonoro.
The Pentagon late on December 23 said the order has been signed for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria.