US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he was not worried that pulling troops out of Syria could endanger Israel, citing vast American military aid to the Jewish state and saying it can defend itself.
Trump made the comments while on a surprise trip to Iraq — the president’s first official visit to a conflict zone — where he defended his controversial decision last week to remove US military forces from Syria, where they have been leading the coalition to fight the Islamic State terror group.
Speaking with reporters, Trump was asked about criticism that the move could put Israel in jeopardy by allowing Iran to expand its foothold in Syria.
“Well, I don’t see it. I spoke with Bibi,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look.”
“So that’s the way it is,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript.
“We’re going to take good care of Israel. Israel is going to be good. But we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And we give them, frankly, a lot more money than that, if you look at the books — a lot more money than that. And they’ve been doing a very good job for themselves,” he added.
It was not immediately clear where Trump’s figure of $4.5 billion or more came from.
The United States currently allocates $3.8 billion to Israel every year as part of a defense aid package forged between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. The memorandum of understanding provides Israel with $38 billion over a 10-year period, which includes funding for the Iron Dome system and other missile interception programs.
The Trump White House has maintained that agreement since taking office, despite Trump complaining about foreign aid disbursements.
The president on Wednesday cited his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as evidence of his commitment to Israel.