Putin Is a Better Leader Than Trump, According to Israelis Worried About the Middle East

Over half of Israelis say Donald Trump has forfeited the United States' influential role in the Middle East and that Vladimir Putin has more power in the region, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

Around 52 percent of the poll’s respondents said Putin's Russia has more influence in the Middle East than Trump's America, and a meager 15 percent thought Trump has more power than Putin. The remainder of participants said Trump and Putin’s influence is equal.

This perception is based on the fact that Trump has allowed Putin to take control of geopolitics in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, experts say. “Trump has reserved a special place for Putin in the Middle East. The US isn’t ready to challenge Mr. Putin in Syria. It’s not willing to be really tough on Iran in Iraq and Syria, which is detrimental to [Israel’s] interests,” Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst at the Wilson Center, told Newsweek. “There is a perception that the Trump administration is risk averse and not risk ready.”

Russia has been playing a more active role in the Middle East over the last five years, but its influence is still mostly over military matters.

“Russia sells billions of dollars’ worth of weapons systems, but it has little trade or investment in non-military areas,” Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International studies, wrote. “It has sought to become the arms supplier of second resort, selling to countries such as Egypt and Algeria when the United States has refused.”

Trump may appear to have abandoned Israel, but he has been more supportive of Israel's policies than the Obama administration was, Miller argues. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Trump after his inauguration, and Trump has moved closer to the United States' traditional allies, such as Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

Trump also gives Netanyahu space to continue building Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a policy opposed by the Obama administration.

Wednesday's poll also demonstrated that 59 percent of Israeli respondents say the state of Israel is criticized because people around the world are hostile to Israel. Only 34 percent of them said Israel is criticized because of legitimate critiques of its policies.

The poll, conducted by an Israeli Foreign Policy Institute and a German Foundation, was released to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the first time an influential figure in the international community said Jews should have their own state.  

“His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote to the erstwhile leader of Britain’s Jewish community Lord Walter Rothschild in 1917 during World War I.

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