From the moment Donald Trump became U.S. president, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a risky bet. He decided to embrace Trump unreservedly, ignoring warnings from critics who said such close ties to an unpopular president could undermine bipartisan support for Israel in the United States. If his gamble paid off, Netanyahu calculated, Trump would not only provide an unprecedented level of backing for the agenda of Israel’s political right, but he would do something more: Trump would help him stay in power.
For a while, the wager seemed to pay off. But now, as Netanyahu faces a fierce battle to stay in office, and with prosecutors also nipping at his heels, it’s all beginning to look like a costly mistake.
Instead of helping Netanyahu, Trump is providing a powerful boost to his rival for the prime minister’s post, Benny Gantz. That may not be Trump’s intention, but his sudden withdrawal of American forces from northeastern Syria has pulled the rug out from under Netanyahu, whose central argument to voters to reelect him was that his ties to Trump will keep Israel safe. As Netanyahu and Gantz battle it out—taking turns trying to form a governing coalition after two successive elections left them essentially in a tie—Trump’s abandonment of the Syrian Kurds may strangely prove to be the death knell of Netanyahu’s political career.