US National Security Adviser John Bolton was deployed to Israel to allay concerns about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and discuss the process with Turkish officials.
The pullout announced last month was initially expected to be completed within weeks, but the timetable has slowed as the president acceded to requests from aides, allies and members of US Congress for a more orderly withdrawal.
Bolton plans to meet Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials on Sunday before travelling to Turkey.
Israeli officials have expressed concern that a swift withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 troops could enable Iran to expand its influence and presence in war-torn Syria.
“There is a great concern among US allies in the region about what is the next step,” said Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London.
“The Trump administration’s message is completely incoherent. On the one hand, the Trump administration is talking about more pressure on Iran vis-a-vis the nuclear issue. But the withdrawal leaves Syria open to Russia and Iran,” he told Al Jazeera.
Trump’s move has also raised fears about clearing the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria who have fought alongside American troops against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish fighters within its own borders. “Top on Turkey’s list is the disarmament of the Kurdish YPG fighters,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep on Turkey’s border with Syria. “Turkey wants them disarmed and removed from the areas near its border with Syria. Turkey also wants logistical and air support from the US, once the troop withdrawal is complete. Turkish officials will want John Bolton to come up with a clear timetable for withdrawal.”