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US says support of Israel unchanged despite Syria pullout

January 1, 2019

The US secretary of state has reassured Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington still supports his country. Pompeo's comments reflect unease caused by Donald Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Mike Pompeo
Image: Getty Images/A.Wong

A decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria will not affect Washington's cooperation with Israel over Syria and in efforts to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (top photo) said on Tuesday.

"The decision the president made on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel," Pompeo said.

"The counter-ISIS ["Islamic State," IS] campaign continues, our efforts to counter Iranian aggression continue and our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way it did before that decision was made," he said.

Read more: Iran and Israel's Syrian shadow war laid bare

Unsettling announcement

Pompeo made the remarks while meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Brasilia on the sidelines of the inauguration of Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro.

They reflect the uncertainty caused among US allies by Trump's decision last month — taken against the advice of top officials — to pull out US troops who are taking part in operations against remnants of the extremist group IS in Syria.

Netanyahu said ahead of his talks with Pompeo that he intended to discuss "the intense cooperation between Israel and the United States, which will also deal with the questions following the decision, the American decision, on Syria."

Read more: With Mattis gone, 'time to be afraid' of 3 a.m. call for Donald Trump

Regional rivals

The US withdrawal from Syria has raised international concerns that any vacuum it creates might be filled by other forces active in the country, with Israel most worried about Iranian allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Last month, after Trump's announcement, the Israeli prime minister said his country would step up its military efforts to counter Iranian-linked forces in Syria after the US troops pulled out.

Israel has already carried out several airstrikes in Syria that it says were provoked by Iranian military activity there, including by its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah.

On Monday, however, Trump seemed to pull back from his initial announcement of an immediate withdrawal, saying in a tweet that the pullout would be done "slowly ... while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants."

tj/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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