President Donald Trump is a very popular man in Israel today.
Until yesterday, no one in Israel believed President Bashar al-Assad would pay a price for using outlawed weapons of war—ones not even deployed during World War II—on his fellow countryman.
However, everything started to change when Trump, during his press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan, spoke out about how upset he was with the killing of children in Syria and that he had changed his mind about what needed to be done.
Israelis went to sleep last night hopeful something might happen, debating among themselves what Israel’s responsibility should be. Yesterday, former Chief Rabbi of Israel and Chairman of Yad Vashem, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, called the events in Syria “a Holocaust.” Nevertheless, Israelis were still surprised the U.S. actually attacked the Syrian air field from which the deadly sarin gas attack was launched.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearly not surprised. As the U.S. had informed Israel of the attack in advance, he had this statement ready at 6 a.m.:
Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that the missile strike on Syria was “an important, necessary and moral message by the free world, led by the United States,” that shows the world “will not tolerate the war crimes of the horrific regime of Bashar Assad.”
Sentiment was similar on the streets of Tel Aviv. One friend sent me a message this morning, stating: “God Bless America.” Another friend said: “You should be proud.” And indeed as an American-Israeli, I must say that today was the first time in a while, that one could feel good about America's actions.
Of course, this one action will not end the carnage that is the Syrian War. Sadly, I am not sure it will even significantly slow the genocide Assad seems to be perpetrating on parts of his people.
However, within a few minutes, Trump managed to accomplish three very important things: he made it clear that violating the Geneva Protocols on the use of chemical or biological weapons would come with a very high price.
Despite Trump's “America first” rhetoric, he has managed to understand that the US has a unique responsibility in the world.
And lastly, with the attack taking place in the middle of his meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, a clear message was sent to North Korea. President Trump clearly would not be as reluctant as his predecessor to use force.
Many unanswered questions remain from the attack on the Syrian air base. The biggest question is, what will come next?
Those trying to understand the policy of the U.S. going forward will grapple with the question of what brought about the 180-degree shift in U.S. policy. The ghoulish photos emanating from Damascus this week have not been the first horrific scenes to come out of Syria since the start of their civil war.
It might have been the images of dead Syrian children, or possibly the passionate views of Trump's daughter Ivanka (who tweeted “Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack yesterday”).
Maybe it was the realization by Trump that with great power comes great responsibility that triggered the change. We may never know. However, writing as someone who has written many columns opposing Trump and most of his policies, I can only end by saying, “Thank you, President Trump.”
Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.
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