On Sunday evening, the White House abruptly announced plans to remove the U.S. military contingent from northeastern Syria—an area that, since the defeat of Islamic State, has been held in cooperation with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. The decision, apparently coordinated with Ankara, comes on the heels of Turkish plans to seize an area in the northern part of the country to create a buffer zone. Warning that the move could pave the way for a resurgent Islamic State, Yaakov Lappin adds an even graver danger:
An additional beneficiary of the U.S. withdrawal is likely to be Iran. Iranian-backed militias are located to the south and east of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, and these forces are likely to try to fill some of the vacuum left behind. Iran is working to flood Syria with its proxy forces, and to build a continuous land corridor between Iraq and Syria. America’s military presence in northern Syria—and the presence of pro-American Kurdish forces—helped block such efforts. Now that roadblock looks set to be lifted.
From a wider regional perspective, the Iranian regime has assessed that isolationism and adversity to risk-taking is driving Trump’s agenda in the region, and it is this calculation that led the Iranians to dare strike Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September, using advanced cruise missiles and explosive drone swarms. . . . As the Iranians predicted, no military response followed.
These developments have the potential to embolden Iran to hasten violations of what remains of the 2015 nuclear deal and restart its nuclear program. In light of the above, Israel’s military independence and freedom of maneuver is essential. Israel must be prepared to engage an Iran that is growing in confidence, and that is increasingly willing to use its own military forces to attack Israel and Sunni Arab states.