Trump says US will ‘protect’ Israel, keep eye on Iran from Iraqi base
President tells CBS Syria pullout moving ahead, promises US forces can be sent back quickly if need be
President Donald Trump said the US military would continue to protect Israel, but vowed to push ahead with a controversial troop withdrawal from Syria, in an interview aired Sunday.
Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria, sparking worries that the move could leave Israeli and Kurdish allies in the lurch and open the way for Iran, Turkey and Russia to expand their influence in the war-torn country.
He said troops could keep an eye on Iranian activity from a base in Iraq, which he said the US would not give up, though insisted he would not use it to attack the Islamic Republic.
“All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,” he said.
Trump’s abrupt announcement in December he would pull all American soldiers from Syria, saying the Islamic State had been defeated, set off alarm bells in Israel, which has being carrying out a campaign to prevent an Iranian military presence there.
Israeli officials have pointed to the al-Tanf base in southern Syria, near the borders with Iraq and Jordan, as key to curbing Iranian attempts to smuggle weapons to Syria and Lebanon.
The planned withdrawal has driven a rare wedge between his administration and Jerusalem, and sparked a rebuke from friendly lawmakers in Washington.
Last week, the Senate voted on a measure opposing the withdrawal. An amendment from the congressional body said that Islamic State and Al-Qaeda still pose a threat to US interests and that a US withdrawal would “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.”
Trump defended the policy Sunday saying that IS has lost 99 percent of its land. “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100%,” Trump said.
Trump responded by rebuking as “naive” and “wrong” his intelligence chiefs, who also had appeared to contradict him on Iran and North Korea.
“When I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems,” he said in the interview. “So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is – if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.”
He played down the danger of an extremist resurgence, but said, “We’ll come back if we have to.”
“You’re going to always have pockets of something,” he said. “But you’re not going to keep armies there because you have a few people. Or you even have fairly reasonable numbers of people.”
Moreover, he argued that US could return to Syria if there were to be a resurgence of IS.
“We’ll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving,” Trump said.
Source: Times of Israel