The announcement by US President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from north-east Syria came as a surprise to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The impact was similar at the regional level in Iraq, Syria and even Israel, which according to statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seemed to be caught off guard. Netanyahu stressed that Israel was considering its options in the aftermath of this event. Even though Netanyahu was aware of the American move three days ago, it was a strong indication that the withdrawal was not planned, and was even startling for Israel.
First, it is important to identify that President Trump, who also possesses the most spontaneous political twitter account, is politically driven by two crucial issues. The first of which is delivering on his campaign promises to his voters; one of which was the withdrawal of troops from Syria. His tweet about withdrawing from Syria was a display of keeping his word to his electorate and maintaining his credibility in the run-up for the battle for his second term which approaches steadily. The leader of the Congressional Democrats Nansy Pelosi commented on the Trump declaration of withdrawal from Syria saying: “The timing of the announcement coincides with new developments in the case of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.” She added: “All Americans should be concerned that the hasty statement of withdrawal from Syria was issued the following day after the court’s approval to postpone the date of conviction of Flynn, who pled guilty for lying to the FBI investigation about being in contact with Russian operatives.”
The second issue that drives Trump’s decisions is the pragmatic aspect of his decisions. It has become customary in his series of presidential decisions that he would make choices based on quick profit; in a way that the benefit of his decisions would materialize rapidly. This is what defined his positions on trade relations with China and Europe, the construction of the wall at the Mexican border, the imposition of new customs with the Canada, as well as other decisions that generally pursue immediate return. He has often pursued these policies even when they lead to collisions with the ruling American institutions or so-called deep state.
The declaration of the American withdrawal from Syria should be approached based on these determinants of Trumps policies. The decision raised Iraqi concerns, as was expressed by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament, due to its timing before the end of the campaign to eliminate ISIS. The step could also cause Iranian concerns that involve around re-igniting a confrontation with military groups on Syrian territory and western Iraqi territory with ISIS.
Strategically however, this move cannot occur in isolation from even tacit agreements with regional parties. Ankara, which regained American confidence through Congress’s approval of a three-and-a-half-billion-dollar Patriot missile deal with Turkey, looks comfortable with the US decision. This opens up the path towards ending control of hostile Kurdish organizations northern Syria, as well as talks of an agreement to deploy the Peshmerga forces on the Iraqi border in northeastern Syria. Although Russia’s role is still unclear, observers rule out the possibility of there being co-ordination with Russia at this level, suggesting Turkey’s role as a liaison.
The American withdrawal will impose a range of new regional challenges. The resulting vacuum will necessarily push Israel to establish increased cooperation with Russia to ensure its active role on the Syrian front. This will also provide Turkey with ample space to consolidate its role under American and Russian approval as well as Iran’s need for a strong relationship with Ankara. A new cycle of violence is set to begin in Syria after the US withdrawal both east of the Euphrates and south of Syria.
In this sense, the American move will open the door wide to re-draw the boundaries of influence between Syria, which is a constant element in the drawing up areas of regional, and international influence. On the regional scope, Israel and Turkey will try, through their relationships with Russia, to craft agreements that preserve their interests in the Levant.