February 13, 2017

CNAS Press Note: What to Expect from the Trump-Netanyahu Summit

By Ilan Goldenberg

With President Trump set to meet Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg has written a new Press Note, “What to Expect from the Trump-Netanyahu Summit.”

Listen to an interview Goldenberg and CNAS CEO Michèle Flournoy recorded on the upcoming summit.

Please find the full Press Note below:

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu will make his first visit to the White House since President Trump took office. Both men will want to present a strong, unified front and ensure the meeting goes well. This should not be too difficult given the common world views that they share.

Based on what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, we should expect Iran to be at the very top of his list. He has indicated that he is determined to encourage Trump to renegotiate the nuclear agreement. It is not clear precisely what he means by this, and the reality is that the nuclear agreement is not just an agreement between the United States and Iran but also includes the other great powers—none of whom have an interest in reopening parts of the agreement. For its part, the Trump administration has chosen to vigorously enforce the agreement and call Iran out on its destabilizing regional behavior in Yemen and its ballistic missile tests. But it seems likely that Trump and Netanyahu can find common ground on this issue.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation is more opaque. The president’s statements on settlements and the desire to negotiate peace have surprised some and are certainly better than keeping silent on this matter. However, Netanyahu and his coalition are likely to have significantly more flexibility in settlement construction than they did under Obama and major breakthroughs on the Israeli-Palestinian front are unlikely in the near future.

The movement of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is unlikely to be a major issue of discussion. After some bold initial indications, the Trump team appears to be walking that possibility back, especially after hearing from King Abdullah of Jordan about the potential implications for the region while he was in Washington last week. Meanwhile, as the Israelis recognize that a bold move on the embassy could cause a significant backlash in the Arab World and potential protests in the West Bank they would prefer to prioritize other matters.

Syria is also likely to be on the agenda. President Trump has indicated a desire to negotiate an agreement to end the conflict with the Russians. Netanyahu is likely to lay out two major concerns that Israel would have in any Syria agreement. First, Israel must maintain the flexibility to launch strikes into Syria to intercept weapons shipments from Damascus to Hezbollah. Second, any agreement must ensure that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Al Qaeda, or ISIS do not end up with a toehold on Israel’s Northern border. Right now this area in Syria is controlled primarily by moderate Syrian opposition forces and an agreement should ensure that they stay in place.

Trump and Netanyahu are also likely to discuss the possibility of Israel-Egypt-U.S. cooperation. Israel and Egypt have been increasing cooperation in recent years to counter the threat posed by extremists in the Sinai. And Trump and Egyptian President Sisi seem to be building a good relationship and strengthening the U.S.-Egypt relationship after a rocky few years. This creates a unique and positive opportunity to deepen ties.

Goldenberg is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409. 

  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is a foreign policy and defense expert with ext...