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As US standing battered by Kabul retreat, Israel may be bruised by association

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People racing alongside taxiing transport planes, some clinging to the outside and then falling hundreds of feet to their deaths. Bullet-strewn bodies lying on an airport sidewalk. Armed fanatics gathered around the president’s desk, abandoned just hours before. Helicopters buzzing over a burning and darkened city that just a day before had been a redoubt of American muscle abroad.

The heart-wrenching scenes out of Kabul as it fell to the Taliban were a ghastly bookend to a 20-year effort by the United States and its NATO allies to build a coherent, functioning, and reasonably democratic Afghanistan.

The unfolding disaster, beamed live to homes around the world and perceived as a US defeat in the face of a jihadist army, has left a gash in America’s image abroad.

Though the tragedy is unfolding almost 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) from Israel, it will have important ramifications for Jerusalem and the choices its partners and enemies will make in the coming months.

For Israel, which has tied itself snuggly to Washington for decades, the downsides are clear.

“When the US is seen as weak, in the simplest terms, it’s bad for Israel,” said Micky Aharonson, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and former foreign policy director at Israel’s National Security Council.

The idea that the most capable intelligence apparatus in the world so badly misread a country it has been intimately involved with for two decades does not inspire confidence in America’s abilities to read and shape the region — especially after a string of high-profile intelligence failures in Iraq, Iran, Libya and more.

“Whenever the world’s most powerful nation suffers a humiliating foreign policy failure, it’s going to have far-reaching international effects, including for countries, like Israel, who have based so much of their own deterrence and national security on the credibility of their strategic partnership with the United States,” said John Hannah, senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

“Even if Israel isn’t directly threatened, many of its weaker neighbors in the Arab Gulf and elsewhere might be, to the detriment of Israel’s own security situation,” he warned.

Across the Middle East, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has added to an already growing sense of shrinking American influence in the region.

“The US has wanted for quite some time to change… its physical resources, it wants to bring its soldiers back, it wants to deal with China and Russia, and with the climate, and the coronavirus crisis, and the economy, and Iran,” noted Yoram Schweitzer, senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security.

“The United States was not defeated,” he said. “You can present it as if the US was defeated until the cows come home, but the US wanted to leave, it just did it, at least 17 years too late.”

But the images of the withdrawal, and countries’ overall........

© The Times of Israel

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