Trump’s festivus for everyone but us: 9 things to know for December 24
Israel media review

Trump’s festivus for everyone but us: 9 things to know for December 24

Russia, Turkey, Iran and even Syria are coming out winners, while Israeli stocks take a dive thanks to Washington, but many here still think Trump is more nice than naughty

A Syrian orphan dressed as Santa Claus meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and his wife Asma, center, during a visit to Sednaya Convent on December 25, 2016. (AP/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)
A Syrian orphan dressed as Santa Claus meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and his wife Asma, center, during a visit to Sednaya Convent on December 25, 2016. (AP/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

1. All Trump wants for Christmas is Erdogan: Over the last decade, Israel can’t be said to have gotten close to even flirting with Turkey, only eyeing it from across the room with a mix of loathing and longing, but now it’s watching its best friend not only get together with the country, but flip birds at its friends as it has a jolly old time.

  • In this way-over-extended metaphor, the two are hooking up under the mistletoe even as Turkey uses one hand to draw up battle plans to slaughter the US’s former Kurdish allies and uses the other to tweet disses at Israel, and all while America’s leader sighs in bliss that its boys are finally coming home.
  • Despite the White House attempting to deny that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was behind the US decision to leave Turkey, President Donald Trump made it clear Sunday that the US pullout from Syria was being coordinated with Turkey, which has made little bones about its plans for the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been battling the Islamic State alongside the US.
  • “OK, it’s all yours. We are done,” Trump told Erdogan (sounding more like someone exiting a john), in a call with him on December 14, according to CNN, in a report widely reported in the Hebrew language media.
  • Even if Israel is a relatively bit part in the Turkish-Syrian-American clusterfuffle, and Turkey’s move to fill the US vacuum will likely have little direct effect on Israel’s battle with Iran on the other side of the country, Jerusalem still takes an outsized interest in anything that happens in Syria, a battlefield that has the power to magnify regional conflicts.
  • “The long-term lesson is that Trump, in his situation, has become someone who cannot be relied on. Even if he is basically sympathetic to Israel, and even though he is surrounded by family, advisers and wealthy people who are Jewish, Trump is in such big trouble and acts in such an erratic manner that the Israeli government cannot be certain of his support over the long term,” Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes.

2. Turkish kiss: Of course, Trump has never been one to seek to reduce international chaos (and not Mattis’s Colonel Has An Outstanding Suggestion kind); one can’t quite imagine the president forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to kiss and make up with Erdogan on the tarmac as Barack Obama did in 2015.

  • In a Twitter thread, Jonathan Schanzer from the Foundation of Defense of Democracies wonders why it is that US leaders seem to be constantly taken in by someone who runs his country like a small-time thug.
  • Many see Netanyahu and Erdogan’s bickering as have little more diplomatic implications than a schoolyard tussle, with the harsh words meant mainly for domestic ears.
  • Interestingly, though, Israel Hayom, which normally raises the volume on the verbal fracases to 11, this time downs it down, with only a small sidebar.
  • And in a little-noticed aside, Netanyahu recently mentioned that trade ties with Turkey were actually flourishing, meaning he may prefer to make his peace with Ankara rather than score a few brownie points by slinging insults at Erdogan.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, which has no such compunctions, comes out and calls Erdogan an anti-Semite in its headline.

3. Paying the price for Syria: Former Pentagon muckety-muck Dov Zakheim writes in The Hill that “far more dangerous for regional stability is the opportunity that Trump now has afforded the unholy alliance of Hezbollah and Iran to prosecute new operations against Israel from western Syria.”

  • And he notes that Netanyahu may suffer politically for putting all his eggs in the Trump basket: “Israelis may have to rethink naming a Jerusalem square after the American president, and take down the many pro-Trump posters that seem to have blanketed that city’s walls.”
  • MKs are already demanding that Netanyahu appear before the Knesset’s powerful Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, after a report that he spurned an offer from Russia that would have seen US forces leave Syria and Iranian militias pushed out, Channel 10 news reports.
  • According to an earlier report by the same channel, the deal was rejected by Netanyahu because it would also have involved an easing of sanctions against Tehran.

4. Assad back in the sleigh: Much has been written about Russia, Iran and Turkey coming away from the pullout as big winners. But the Israeli media has also seemed to cotton to Syrian President Bashar Assad possibly being welcomed back into the fold of the Arab League.

  • On Sunday, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported that the head of the Mukhabarat met with Egyptian security head Abbas Camel, the first such official meeting between the countries in years.
  • Yedioth’s Smadar Peri links that diplomatic opening with a recent visit by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to Damascus. “Abdel Fatah el-Sissi’s Egypt has accepted the new situation in Syria as a fait accompli. What Sissi really wants is to bring Assad back into the Arab League. It won’t be easy, but he’s getting things ready for it.”
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el notes that “If Syria returns to the Arab League in the near future, that would be much more than a symbolic gesture. It would be a slap in the face to Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t want Assad remaining in power. It would also be a clear sign both that the Arab coalition against Iran is developing cracks and that the stature of its leader, Saudi Arabia, is declining.”

5. Latin America calling: There are signs that Israel is not accepting the new situation, though, with Axios reporting that Netanyahu will discuss it with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while the two are in Brazil for the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro.

  • Ties with Honduras may also be on the rise, as Hadashot news reports that Tegiculapa is willing to move its embassy to Jerusalem in exchange for upgraded diplomatic and trade ties, as well as help with agricultural and cyber technology, two of Israels’ favorite exports.

6. Market dive: It’s often forgotten that your average Israeli cares as much or more about bread-and-butter financial and economic issues than security ones. Hence all of Israel’s major Hebrew-language news outlets led Sunday with the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange slumping by some 5 percent, the biggest single-day loss since 2011.

  • “Collapse,” reads the single-word headline on Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page. “Sudden landslide,” Israel Hayom cries out.
  • Monday morning opened with a slight crawl-back, leading the Calcalist daily to excitedly ask if the trend was reversing.
  • But Haaretz leads with the Bank of Israel warning that the chances of a financial crisis are growing.
  • The Globes financial daily notes that the central bank itself “is liable to report a $2 billion loss on its foreign currency portfolio in 2018 as a result of the steep falls in the share and corporate bond markets.”
  • And all of this a day before new banks chief Amir Yaron’s first day on the job, with started Monday.
  • “Yaron is getting a warm, red welcome into the job this morning, mainly meaning he won’t be afforded 100 days of grace, and will have to hit the ground running,” Yedioth Gad Lior writes.

7. Blame America: Analysts almost across the board agree that the fault for the drop-off isn’t the central bank recently raising rates for the first time in years, but rather US financial policy and specifically the uncertainty engendered by Trump’s mercurial policy-making (and his reported questioning of the Fed’s independence.)

  • “At this point there is almost nothing the Fed can do or say that won’t make things worse: If it keeps raising interest rates, it undermines the stock market by making shares less attractive; if it keeps them unchanged going forward, it’s a signal that it is worried about the US economy,” David Rosenberg writes in Haaretz. “The Fed wouldn’t be so anxious, except that one of Trump’s new ‘accomplishments’ was the 2017 tax cut. It not only stimulated an economy not in need of stimulation, it did so at the heavy cost of a ballooning US budget deficit. The Fed has no choice but to take some of the air out of the balloon by raising interest rates, or it will burst in a recession. The Bank of Israel has already followed suit, raising rates here.”
  • In Israel Hayom, though, columnist Eran Ben Tal points a finger squarely at Fed head Jerome Powell. “Investors in [housing, leasing and real estate] in Israel and around the world are hoping the president will manage to curb the Fed and allow them to continue to drive the economy.”

8. Pretty, pretty good: Looking at the Year of Trump, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Itamar Eichner writes that despite his erratic personality and policy-making Trump has been all in all on Israel’s side.

  • “Israel couldn’t have dreamed of a friendlier president. For Netanyahu, he’s the realization of all of his prayers after his confrontations with Barack Obama,” he writes.
  • In his accounting, the delay of the US peace plan can be either good or bad, depending on where one stands on the political spectrum.
  • Speaking on Army Radio Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the plan would include a Palestinian state, and so he would not back it, despite it expected to be widely favorable to Israel, which is why the Palestinians also will reject it.
  • Speaking to UAE-based The National, Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations says between Trump siding with Israel and a splintered and weak Palestinian leadership, things do not look set to improve in 2019.
  • “The ageing Palestinian leadership is out of vision, strategy, and belief,” he’s quoted saying. “For its part, Hamas remains caught between its need to be seen as a responsible actor in Gaza that can engage with the international community, and its DNA as a resistance group fighting Israel and undermining Fatah rule in the West Bank. All in all, this represents a profound moment of Palestinian weakness and division, at home and abroad.”

9. Absorbing ministers: After several weeks of holding five portfolios, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally dropped one, appointing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to also be immigrant absorption minister.

  • Former coalition chief David Bitan tells Army Radio that Netanyahu gave the gig to someone who was already minister to avoid Likud infighting ahead of elections, though it’s not clear how the move does that. He says Netanyahu will also eventually give up the Foreign Ministry to someone who is already a minister.
  • Absorption minister may not be glamorous, but there were still a number of people who had been gunning for it, including Kulanu MK Michael Oren, who himself was once an immigrant, and is already a deputy minister.
  • “I am the person most qualified for the position,” an overconfident Oren told ToI Sunday morning, listing his work done on behalf of immigrants and absorption. “If the appointment is made on just a professional level, I don’t think there is really much of a choice to be made.”
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