There is no question that US President Donald Trump has an entirely different understanding than his predecessor did of what it means for America to support Israel. But his public and emphatic support for the Jewish State, even as it begins to take shape, still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. What will it look like? What will he actually do? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the framework for his support? What is its context? How does it fit into his vision for US self-interest in the Middle East, especially vis-a-vis radical Islam?
Today, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is en route to the United States for his first face-to-face with Trump since the latter's inauguration on 20 January. Publicly, Netanyahu is touting a years-long friendship with Trump. Acknowledging conjectures about the meeting on Wednesday 15 February, Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that his "supreme consideration" has three parts: Israel's security; its alliance with the US; and "to strengthen our other national interests."
Publicly, speculations about the upcoming encounter are tending to focus on what Trump might say about Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria and their related issue, a workable peace plan with Palestinians living in that same region.
Behind the scenes, however, there are indications that Jerusalem is scrambling to adapt to Trump's larger vision for the Middle East. Apparently, he has been moving fast in negotiations with Russia and Turkey. Reports indicate he has aligned himself with Russian President Putin's determination to defeat ISIS. Together with Turkey, Washington, Moscow and Ankara are actively negotiating to take joint control of Syria.
But defeating ISIS is not an operation that can be limited to Syria. The terror groups also has strongholds in Iraq and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Accordingly, what Trump is proposing is a "herculean task that calls for a coalition of several armies ...whose consequences are unforeseen." This, according to the Israeli intelligence news service, DEBKAfile. It adds that these armed forces "must be ready to sustain a massive long-term military presence in the Middle East to make sure that a new bane does not raise its head."
In Trump's view, the other big "bane" is Iran. In addition to defeating ISIS, he also wants to humiliate the Islamic Republic, forcing it out of Syria, out of Lebanon, out of Yemen.
It is an objective that Jerusalem both embraces and fears. The reason for those fears is that Trump's plan will require an "overwhelming" and long-term "military presence in the Middle East of the combined might of US, Russia, Turkish, Saudi and Egyptian armies."
"Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will therefore be bursting through an open door if he tries delivering a lengthy harangue to Trump on the threats posed by Iran and Hezbollah when he begins a visit to Washington on Wednesday, 15 February," DEBKAfile writes. "He would do better to ignore the counsels of the pundits and advisers [in Israel] who have not yet caught up with the new president in the White House, or grasped the scale of the earthquake Trump and Putin are preparing for the entire region."
In fact, there is speculation that Trump will ask Netanyahu to join the coalition army he hopes to form. If so, his vision includes the IDF fighting side-by-side with Saudi, Egyptian, Russian and Turkish troops. In Trump's view, their joint defeat of ISIS and humiliation of Iran would provide the basis for Middle East peace that, together, defeats ISIS, squashes Tehran's apocalyptic vision to become a superpower, and polices the region to snuff any new expressions of radical Islam.
If the Middle East is trembling, it is because Trump's vision looks a lot like war.