The US surprise decision to announce that it would withdraw from an area along the Syrian border and enable a Turkish military operation into northern Syria raises many questions about long-term US policy in the Middle East. It is also concerning to Jerusalem because both Iran, an enemy of Israel, and Turkey, which excoriates Israel regularly at international forums, appear to gain as the US retreats.
The US decision to open the door for a Turkish invasion of eastern Syria is seen as a betrayal among US partners on the ground in Syria, and particularly among many Kurds. Across the region it is also seen as the US, once again, letting down allies. This has been a refrain from Iraq to Egypt to the Gulf. US President Donald Trump said that although the Kurds fought alongside the US, eastern Syria was now the for "Turkey, Europe, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Russia" to deal with.
The US may appear to only be leaving a few border posts in Tel Abyad near the Turkish border. But the effect is felt all the way to the Gulf and Riyadh and down to Amman and Cairo. It's a message.
Across the Middle East, Trump's decision is seen as the US, once again, letting down an ally.
In the Gulf the feeling is already clear. Saudi Arabia cannot confront Iran after the September 14 attack on Abqaiq and its oil facilities. The UAE is seeking to end the Yemen conflict. Riyadh appears bogged down in Yemen with the forces it supports being dealt a blow by the Iranian-backed Houthis. Saudi's image has been harmed by the murder of former insider Jama Khashoggi in Istanbul last year.
This then is the situation in the region. The US wants to end the Afghan war, empowering Iran there as well. It wants to leave Syria. It may be asked to leave parts of Iraq by Iranian-backed parties in parliament. Turkey, once more close to Israel, is now one of the most vocal opponents of Israel in the region and is empowered by the US move. It and its ally Qatar have worked with Hamas. Iran works with Hamas. Iran works with Turkey on Syria. On Iran's grand chessboard for its long-term strategy in the region, it sees another win.
An erratic Washington creates the kind of uncertainty that Israel's enemies will readily exploit.
The US decision to leave eastern Syria appears abrupt, not informing European allies or the SDF, or preparing the ground. It shows that the US can make policy by tweet, as Trump has in the past. What does this mean for Jerusalem? It means that Washington's "deal of the century" and other plans are not clear. An erratic Washington, even one that appears more pro-Israel than previous administration, leaves more questions than answers. Israel's enemies exploit that kind of uncertainty. There is a feeling that while the US supports Israel's actions in the region, Israel is also alone and not being consulted on regional strategy.
In the short term the plans by Ankara to move into eastern Syria, bit-by-bit, are clear. But the long term question is how Iran and Israel enemies may benefit. Russia will watch closely what is happening because its ally the Syrian regime doesn't want the US to manage a Turkish takeover of eastern Syria.
Russia previously signed off on Turkey using the airspace over Afrin for a campaign there. But Russia is concerned about instability in Raqqa and other areas where there was previously ISIS presence. If the SDF fights Turkey there will be a power vacuum. Will Iran fill the vacuum? If it does it gives it more real estate in Syria to transfer weapons to Hezbollah and allies. Whoever fills that vacuum has leverage over the future of Syria and Iraq and security throughout the region. Israel is concerned and will watch closely.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.