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Trump and the Middle East: A new course

US President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, delivers remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
• Trump has instituted a policy of unwavering support for Israel after a period of strained relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The last days of the Obama administration included an extraordinary US refusal at the UN to block a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.
Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s November 2016 election saying he was a “true friend of the State of Israel.” Since then, Trump has appointed a US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, known for his support for settlement activity, and ordered the withdrawal of US support for UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, with relaunching moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But he has been lukewarm about a Palestinian state and angered Palestinian leaders earlier this year with a threat — since withdrawn — to close the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington.
• Trump considers Iran to be the principal threat to US interests in the Middle East and has frequently condemned the Islamic Republic for what he sees as its “destabilizing” influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Trump has been a relentless critic of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 and has repeatedly threatened to scrap the agreement intended to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
• Trump has strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia. Relations with another Middle East powerhouse — Egypt — have also entered a new era under Trump. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was persona non grata under Obama and the US cut off some military aid because of the bloody crackdown on supporters of the former president. But Trump welcomed El-Sisi to the White House in April and proclaimed his “strong backing” for the Egyptian leader.
• Trump frequently accused Obama of failing to stand up to Bashar Assad and in April he ordered the first US military strike on Syrian troops since the civil war began in that country. Dozens of US missiles were fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel town which left 87 people dead. The US has deployed some 2,000 troops in Syria and the Pentagon said Tuesday that they will stay “as long as we need” to prevent a return of the Daesh group.
Trump also reinforced the US military contingent in Afghanistan, a move at odds with Obama’s efforts to withdraw US troops from conflict zones abroad.

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