For the next four years, Trump will be in charge of US foreign policy, will be Commander-in-Chief, with access to all intelligence gathered by the world’s most sophisticated spy agency, and will be the man that Israel will rely on for a key part of its security.
During his 18 month-long campaign, Trump promised many things, many of them that will have a great impact on Israel. And many of his positions go against many of the long-standing American policies towards Israel and the Middle East.
During Trump’s campaign speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he reiterated the fact that he is a “ lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel.” He’s also called the United Nations “utterly incompetent” and “weak”, saying that “the United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home. And it surely is not a friend to Israel.”
So what can the Middle East and Israel, specifically, expect from President Trump?
Trump has promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and stop seeing the two-state solution as the way to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If that happens, the United States may well lose their reputation as an influential broker in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Those two promises have not been forgotten by right-wing Israeli politicians, who have hailed Trump’s win as a victory for Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policies broadly align him with the Republican ideology, did not have the best relationship with outgoing President Barack Obama, and has even been criticized of being reckless in making common cause with the Republican party, especially in regards to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu grew up in Philadelphia (one of the few pockets that voted for Clinton in a state which was won by Trump) and was said to “be frightened” of both presidential candidates. But he congratulated Trump on his win, saying that “the unique bond” between the two countries “will be strengthened.”
Echoing Netanyahu’s statement, Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman congratulated Trump on his win, stating that he hopes to “maintain and strengthen the special relationship and friendship between the two countries.”
In Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat stated that he is “confident that (Trump) will continue to empower our city by reaffirming it’s sovereignty and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.” Israel’s Education Minister Naftalie Bennet called Trump’s win “an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security,” adding that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
A regional security expert told The Jerusalem Post that there are “a few unknowns” about Trump’s policies towards Israel’s security, which makes it very difficult for Israel and its security agencies to predict the threat of the next regional conflict.
Hamas has called on Trump to reassess US policy “in favor of the Israeli occupation” and “to work on bringing justice to the Palestinians,” but it is unlikely that Trump will pay much heed to their request.
Many experts have told The Jerusalem Post that they are concerned not only about a possible uptick in violence in Israel and the West Bank if Trump follows through on his electoral promises, but that Washington, Israel’s closest ally, may now be moving closer to Moscow, which was accused of interference in the US elections.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, they said that Trump’s policies in the region may be detrimental for Israel, pointing towards Trump’s soft stance on Russian involvement in Syria.
Trump has criticized Obama’s handling of the war in Syria, including against the Islamic State and stated in the October 9th presidential debate that “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.”
And while Trump stated during his AIPAC speech that his “number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” promising to “stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region,” Moscow is supporting Tehran, both militarily and diplomatically.
Meir Javendafar, an Iranian policy expert told The Jerusalem Post that it is “unlikely” that Trump would break the nuclear deal with Iran because “in order to have Iran listen, or feel isolated from additional sanctions, you need to have Europe on America’s side. But if he breaks the deal, he loses Europe.”
A regional security expert told The Jerusalem Post that following the signing of the nuclear deal, Jerusalem had the ability to focus on the immediate threats to her border, but Trump has “a conflicting policy on Iran, which will embolden Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, who want to conclude their role in the Syrian conflict and strengthen their foothold in the Syrian Golan.”
Philip Smyth, adjunct at Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Researcher at the University of Maryland focusing on Shia jihadism and militias, told The Jerusalem Post that “for all of his complaints about Iran taking over Iraq, Trump allowing Russia to continue an unrestricted bombing campaign in Syria may mean that Iran is granted a greater hand to extend its influence and build their proxies’ fighting capabilities. What’s more, the groups Iran controls have stated quite openly that their next target is the Jewish state.”
Without any pressure from the West, Hezbollah will turn their sights back towards Israel.
The news for Israel’s southern border isn’t that much brighter.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi was the first foreign leader to congratulate him on his win.
Relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have increased steadily since Sisi came to power in 2013, removing the elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi has since cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, designating it as a terrorist organization in Egypt.
Israel has been lobbying for an improvement of ties between Cairo and Washington. And while Cairo has been cracking down on Hamas since the removal of Morsi, Cairo has been moving closer to the Russian and Iranian sphere of influence.
While it remains to be seen how Donald Trump’s victory will affect Israel’s security, it is clear that he faces a series of difficult decisions in a region consumed by deadly turmoil in his role as the 45th elected President of the United States.