In Israel, National Security Adviser Bolton Suggests U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Will Slow

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 7 January 2019
In Israel, National Security Adviser Bolton Suggests U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Will Slow

The following weeks have seen some tweaking to Trump’s original decision to exit Syria as soon as possible. The main reason is that Turkish officials want a planned U.S. withdrawal in order to limit the opportunities that other actors, namely the Damascus regime, Russia, or the PKK/PYD/YPG itself, might have to tilt the situation to their advantage. Turkey’s request is eminently logical and any rational U.S. policy maker should see that.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton, visiting Israel to allay concerns about an announced withdrawal of American forces from Syria, indicated ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would slow the planned pullout.

Israeli officials had expressed concern that the withdrawal, announced last month by U.S. President Donald Trump, could enable Iran to expand its military presence in Syria, and Netanyahu asserted that the move would not affect Israeli military action to prevent Tehran’s buildup there.

Israel has struck repeatedly from the air at what it said were Iranian military targets in Syria, though the strikes have sharply declined since a Russian plane was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli attack in September.

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on 6 January, Bolton said that no timetable had been set for the Syria withdrawal, and that the pullout is conditioned on a defeat of the remnants of the Islamic State group (IS) and assurances by Turkey of the safety of Syrian Kurdish fighters allied with the United States.

"The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement," Bolton was quoted as saying.

Bolton's comments were the first public confirmation that the pullout, which was to have been carried out within weeks, had been slowed following criticism from U.S. allies and the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Netanyahu is reported to have asked Trump to ensure that the withdrawal be done gradually, and according to a political source familiar with the details, the U.S. president was "positively considering" the request. On Saturday, an unnamed US official told reporters travelling with Bolton that some American troops could stay in southern Syria.

In remarks to the media at the weekly meeting of his cabinet on 6 January, Netanyahu said that he would discuss with Bolton “efforts to block the Iranian aggression in our region”, the situation in Syria following President Trump’s decision and a recent conversation between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and “deepening operational intelligence cooperation between Israel and the U.S.".

“We continue to act against the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, these days as well, and we are acting against any element that will undermine or try to undermine Israel’s security,” Netanyahu added.

Ahead of Bolton's scheduled visit to Turkey, his remarks about Turkey angered Ankara, which said U.S. claims that Turkey targets Kurds are irrational.

Responding to U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton's remarks, Turkey's presidential spokesman on Sunday described as "irrational" claims that Turkey targets Kurds, as the country is fighting Daesh, the Islamic State group and PKK/PYD/YPG, Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units terrorists.

“The issue is PKK/PYD/YPG are making efforts to establish an order by oppressing Kurds, who don’t obey them, and their terrorist activities against our country,” Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement. “There is no doubt that a terror group cannot be an ally of the U.S.,” Kalin said.

Earlier on Sunday, Bolton said the U.S. will not withdraw troops from northeastern Syria until Turkish government guarantees fight against Daesh and that it won’t attack “Kurdish fighters”, referring to YPG/PKK terrorist group.

Kalin stressed that Turkey’s aim in fight against terrorism is to provide national security, and ensure regional peace and stability. He noted that Turkey is the only NATO member countering the terror group PKK and its Syrian branches of PYD and YPG, as well as other terrorists of Daesh and FETO, or the government-labelled Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.

The presidential spokesman said the country was going to coordinate with its allies and the countries in the region in fight against terrorism, while resolutely implementing the policies required for the national security.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s principle that “we will be both on the ground and at the table” clearly explains that both military and diplomatic means are always open for the national interests, Kalin said.

He stressed that Turkey’s aim was to clear Syria of all terror groups, to protect its territorial integrity and provide political and social conditions for the safe return of Syrians to their country by protecting lives of the civilians.

Kalin said the PYD and the YPG are the Syrian branches of the PKK terrorist group, which continue their acts on the pretext of fighting against Daesh, added: "They cannot represent Syrian Kurds."

"It's disrespectful for our Kurdish brothers to claim they are represented by a terror group," he added. Kalin said Turkey's aim while fighting against PKK and its Syrian branches is to rescue Kurds from the tyranny and oppression of this terror group and to ensure their safety of life and property.