Speaking to the Washington Post on Tuesday about the importance of maintaining the U.S.-Saudi alliance, President Trump named Israel as “one reason” for an American presence in the Middle East. This is not the first time the administration has made such an assertion. To Herb Keinon, it is a dangerous one:
The last thing Israel wants the average American to think is that U.S. troops in the Middle East are risking their lives—and at times losing them—to protect Israel. Israel has been careful never to ask for U.S. troops to be deployed in the region. It has lobbied Washington long and hard for weapons and funds to buy arms, saying “Give us the wherewithal to defend ourselves.” But it has never asked America to do the actual defending. . . .
Israel’s position is that the U.S. is engaged in the Middle East because it is a U.S. interest to be engaged in the Middle East, since it is vital for U.S, security and for Washington’s strategic position in the world to be involved in this region and keep it from falling into the hands of Islamic radicals—be they Sunni or Shiite. Those radical forces would like nothing more than to see a Mideast without any American presence or influence. . . .
Jerusalem wants to see the U.S. engaged, influential, and active in the region. . . . This sentiment is in no way unique to Israel. Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Persian Gulf countries, Egypt, and Jordan are all fearful of a situation where the U.S. would withdraw within itself. Were that to happen, other actors would fill the vacuum, as was the case in Syria, where in 2015 Russia moved in as the U.S. waffled during the Syrian civil war. And two things are certain if other actors fill the vacuum left by the U.S.: first, those actors will be much less benign; second, they will be much less concerned about Israel’s interests.