Nearly two-thirds of Israelis believe the US withdrawal from Syria will harm national security, a poll released Thursday found.
According to the survey, published by the Israel Democracy Institute as part of its monthly Peace Index, 58 percent of Israelis said the decision announced by US President Donald Trump last month would “damage Israeli security interests.”
Concerns about the withdrawal of American troops was higher among Jewish Israelis, with 61% saying the move was a negative development for the Jewish state, as opposed to some 41% of Arab Israelis.
The Peace Index survey compiled the responses of 600 Israeli adults on January 2-3, and had a margin of error of 4.1%.
The poll comes amid confusion over conflicting statements by Trump and senior US officials about the planned US troop withdrawal from Syria.
In announcing the move, Trump said the 2,000 American soldiers leading the coalition against the Islamic State jihadist group while helping thwart an Iranian military foothold in Syria would be pulled out soon. He did not give details, such as a timetable, leaving bewildered US partners in the region jockeying for influence over terms of a withdrawal.
The surprise announcement rattled Jerusalem, with Israeli officials expressing concern that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.
Last week, Trump sparked further consternation in Israel when he said that Iran “can do what they want” in Syria, appearing to give Tehran free rein to further entrench itself in the country, though he also said Iran was pulling its forces out of the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the planned US pullout will not deter Israel from continuing to carry out airstrikes against Iranian military interests in Syria. In the wake of the announcement, Netanyahu reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin to strengthen bilateral diplomatic and military cooperation in Syria.
Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister told Putin in a phone call last week that “Israel is determined to continue its efforts to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US National Security Adviser John Bolton traveled to the Middle East this week to reassure America’s Arab allies that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region and is continuing to step up pressure on Iran.
In Jordan on Tuesday, Pompeo said the pullout would not detract from US efforts to marginalize Iran, and urged US allies to confront the “significant threats” posed by jihadist groups and the Islamic Republic.
“You’ll see in the coming days and weeks we are redoubling all our diplomatic and commercial efforts to put real pressure on Iran,” he said at a news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
Late last month, Pompeo reassured Netanyahu that Trump’s decision “in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel.”
In his talks with Netanyahu on Sunday, Bolton said the US exit from Syria was conditioned on defeating the remnants of IS, and on Turkey assuring the safety of its allied Kurdish fighters. He said there was no timetable for the pullout, but insisted it’s not an unlimited commitment.
“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”