Although the overall threat of the Islamic State is diminishing, Syria remains a mess. For the United States, Israel and the Kurds, the defeat of the Islamic State merely turns the page to a new and possibly even more dangerous chapter.
In the run up to a new round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva this week, both the United States and Syria accepted the deployment of Iranian forces and Iranian-controlled proxies, such as Hezbollah, on the Syrian Golan Heights facing Israel.
President Trump on Friday reportedly told Turkish President Erdogan that the United States will stop supplying weapons to Syrian Kurdish forces, “and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. That followed Iraqi Kurds’ recent setbacks when the Iraqi army pushed their forces out of disputed areas the Kurds had occupied.
Neither bringing Iran right up to Israel’s door nor sidelining the Kurds bodes well. And the U.S. commitment to keep its forces in northern Syria indefinitely, while preventing a power vacuum in land once held by the Islamic State, could bring the United States into conflict with Syria, Iran and even their sponsor, Russia.
These moves — and their possible consequences — don’t even tell the whole story. The shelling of civilians by Syrian and Russian forces is ongoing. On Sunday, Al Jazeera reported that 80 people, most of them civilians, were killed in attacks in a 24-hour period. And there is no indication that the bloodshed will abate.
The Syrian war — it’s no longer a civil war — has led to up to 475,000 deaths and pushed out more than 5 million people. Countless refugees have died trying to escape by sea, while European countries have been rocked by the number of refugees moving through the continent. Jordan risks destabilization. And this is all happening as the Trump administration continues to roll up America’s welcome mat.
We understand that the United States cannot solve Syria’s problems. But that doesn’t mean that America can’t show better leadership. And the American Jewish community and other supporters of Israel can help by pressing Congress and the administration to force the removal of Iranian forces and proxies from their threatening positions at Israel’s northern border.
Last week, Udi Dekel and Zvi Magen of the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University observed that “unlike Russia and Iran, the United States under Trump has no clear strategy on the current situation in Syria and the future of the country. … It seems that the time is coming when Israel, if it wants to stop Iran’s influence and consolidation in Syria, will have to become actively engaged in the Syrian quagmire.”
Such a widening of the Syrian conflict will only cause more death and misery. International leaders need to do something to end it once and for all.