Allies shmallies: 6 things to know for December 23
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Allies shmallies: 6 things to know for December 23

With Syria pullout, Trump apparently chose Turkey over his friends and advisers, tearing relationships asunder and sparking fears of what may come next

US President Donald Trump receives applause after signing the "First Step Act" and the "Juvenile Justice Reform Act" at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 21, 2018. (Jim WATSON / AFP)
US President Donald Trump receives applause after signing the "First Step Act" and the "Juvenile Justice Reform Act" at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 21, 2018. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

1. Concern from friends: The Syria pullout, and Trump no longer exempting Israel from his America First policies — at least on this — is making some strange bedfellows and some bedfellows strange.

  • For instance, American Jews who have tried to stand by Trump through thick and thin are now faced with having to deal with suddenly disagreeing with him, ToI’s Eric Cortellessa reports.
  • “I think the relationship between the Trump administration and most pro-Israel groups has been complicated by this,” former Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, a pretty staunch Trump backer for his stance on Iran and some other things, tells ToI.
  • Others, like the Republican Jewish Committee, are just keeping their mouths shut.

2. Talking Turkey: Meanwhile Israel Hayom is suddenly having to find a way to reconcile its pro-Benjamin Netanyahu character and pro-Trump leanings, despite their very different stances toward Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • The Associated Press reports that Trump surprised everybody in a call with Erdogan when he allowed himself to be convinced by the Turkish president on leaving Syria. “The officials said Trump, who had previously … convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put US troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.”
  • Thus on the same day that Netanyahu slammed Erdogan as “the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey,” the paper plays up the fact that Trump said Erdogan would take care of Islamic State, justifying his Syria pullout.
  • The paper’s US correspondent goes as far as drawing a direct link between Trump giving in to Erdogan and the Turkish leader’s anti-Semitic rant that preceded Netanyahu’s statement: “It seems his self-confidence grew in the wake of these developments and he once again did not miss an opportunity to lash out at Israel.”
  • Trump himself doesn’t shy away from admitting he will switch sides at the drop of a hat if he thinks it can help him, tweeting cryptically Saturday night that “Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of US.”
  • “The world doesn’t interest him, and with his decision to pull out of Syria he proved that allies don’t matter to him either,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s Orly Azulay writes. “The decision doesn’t just abandon the Kurds, who fought under US sponsorship against the jihadists in Syria, but also his most important ally in the Middle East: Israel.”

3. Nobody to argue with: One immediate repercussion was the resignation of Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who canceled a trip to Israel after announcing his intention to quit.

  • That, and other administration defections, may be bad news for Israel, Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes.
  • “Mattis was seen, including by his many acquaintances in Israel’s defense establishment, as an island of sanity and stability in that roiling sea. Midway through the term, Donald Trump’s administration mirrors the president: capricious, struggling to weigh complex considerations and as a result unpredictable and dangerous to himself and his surroundings,” he writes.
  • “Now he has nobody to listen to but his instinct,” political scientist Yoav Fromer writes in Yedioth. “The collapse we’ve seen in the last few days — the retreat from Syria, Wall Street losses, and the government shutdown — show how destructive it can be.”

4. Blackballing the black hats: Despite not even having a foreign minister or defense minister to consult with on such decisions, Netanyahu is widely viewed as being a much smarter and more shrewd thinker when it comes to world affairs, though Haaretz’s Harel raises fears that the prime minister could throw caution to the wind with elections in the offing.

  • Israel Hayom reports that the government’s collapse and new elections may be just around the corner, with ultra-Orthodox parties threatening to boycott a panel meant to solve a crisis over passing a law regulating draft deferment for members of the Haredi community.
  • According to the report, based on ultra-Orthodox sources, the panel has only managed to agree on a few minor items, and coalition whip David Amsalem, who is heading the panel, doesn’t plan on including them in the law anyway.
  • “The situation as it is now [is that] the discussions on the panel are barren and lacking substance,” a Haredi source is quoted telling the tabloid.

5. The marathon before the storm: Will the timetable for elections affect Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s work on deciding on whether or not to charge prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with what?

  • Despite some 800 pages of documents and evidentiary material to go through, Channel 10 reports that he does not plan on taking more than three months, starting his “marathon” meetings Sunday. (The Ynet news website reports they won’t start until Monday.)
  • “He already knows the material,” the channel reports. “That being said, he will also have to hear from more sources.”
  • Ynet notes that Mandelblit is the only one who can legally decide on forcing Netanyahu to stand trial, “but the stances of two senior officials will have a decisive influence: State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who will have to provide a legal umbrella to defend the decision in the High Court in case there is an appeal against the decisions, and [Tax and Finance Department head] Liat Ben Ari, who has managed the investigations.”
  • Both of them have recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, according to reports. No matter what Mandelblit ends up deciding, it will almost certainly be controversial.

6. The re-education of Oren Hazan: It’s not every day that an Israeli politician endorses re-education camp; thus, Likud MK Oren Hazan’s tweet doing just that raises some, but not many, hackles.

  • Hazan’s tweet was meant as a sarcastic (one hopes) response to Mandelblit and others rejecting unlawful means of “deterring” terror, like forcible relocation or tearing down homes: “The Chinese … apparently found the right legal outline to combat terrorism – as I am sure there is no convention, not even in Geneva, that in 2018 objects to proper education. I’m for it,” he wrote, according to a Haaretz translation.
  • What gets more attention, at least in the Israeli press, is another moment involving Hazan, a picture of him taking a selfie with other lawmakers to celebrate the passage of the controversial Nation-State Law, captured by Haaretz’s Olivier Fitoussi, which won first place at a photo competition held by the Eretz Israel Museum.
  • “Fitoussi’s nation-state photograph is a photo of a ‘decisive moment’ that essentially presents the faces and names behind the words written in the law, which was passed by the Israeli Knesset,” the paper quotes the judges saying. “Just as the nation-state law symbolizes the process that Israeli society is undergoing from democratic to Jewish, and some would say from democratic to racist – the photograph presents to us the moment after the vote. This is a moment of letting go and release, and at the center is the red tie worn by the prime minister, like a ‘warning sign.’”
  • Check out all of the photos recognized by the museum.
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