US President Donald Trump has announced that it is time to recognise the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under attack at home, subject to prosecution for corruption and bribery, has welcomed the gift from Trump. The timing is perfect for Netanyahu, who is struggling to eke out a majority in forthcoming elections. His political rivals, the Blue and White party, appear to the public as a relatively centrist alternative to Netanyahu, even though their leaders, former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, are far from being moderates.
How will the world react? Will anyone oppose Trump’s illegal move?
When questioned about the relationship between the timing of his announcement and the Israeli domestic elections during an interview with Fox News, President Trump contradicted himself. “I wouldn’t even know about that (the Israeli elections), I have no idea (about the Israeli elections).” But he then confirmed that he is informed about the Israeli elections: “I hear he’s doing okay”, Trump said.
For decades, US Presidents have intervened in Israeli elections, supporting a Prime Minister against his political rivals or pulling the carpet from under a Prime Minister’s feet when there is disagreement- as George Bush did in 1991 – just one occasion – when he rejected a $10bnloan to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government. Shamir then lost the election to Yitzhak Rabin.
But Trump has made 7,645 false or misleading claims since taking office. An additional one won’t disturb his sleep. The moral is that the US establishment does not care what the world has to say if it doesn’t fit with its own policies and objectives. The US considers itself entitled to break laws because it is the strongest, and can apparently do anything it wishes to. Indeed, the US occupied Iraq in 2003 without the approval of the United Nations. Libya was bombed before any UN decision and US forces are deployed in east Syria and on the Syrian-Iraqi borders as occupation forces without a UN mandate.
Moreover, Trump moved his embassy to Jerusalem and defined the Palestinian Capital as Israeli propriety, disregarding the world’s resentment and rejection of his decision. Jerusalem is the first Qibla of the Muslims, the direction Muslims around the world used to pray to before Makkah (Mecca). Arab populations are boiling about this decision, while their leaders connive against their will, establishing warm relationships with Israel. Thus, there is no reason why Trump or Netanyahu should be worried about violating UN resolutions 242, 338, and 497 (including the fate of UNDOF presence and security in the Golan) that require Israel to withdraw from the occupied Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank. Why would the Trump-Netanyahu duo care when the Arabs are divided and the Russian, Chinese and European countries who protest will not to go war to recover the occupied Golan Heights?
On October 17, 1973, it was the Arabs who publicly used oil as a weapon to challenge US objectives when OPEC began its embargo. Today the oil is at the service of the US to protect its client Arab leaders and their monarchies. The only possibility of opposition to Trump’s move is a popular mobilisation resistance, mainly a Syrian resistance force. However, the Syrian government is, for the moment, unwilling to start a new battle against Israel. Regaining the occupied Golan Heights could only be achieved through local resistance and attacks against the occupier, an audacious and costly move that President Bashar al-Assad may not be able to undertake right now, particularly when the war in Syria is not over yet. The Syrian government needs to start rebuilding local morale for reconciliation among Syrians and the suffering economy and infrastructure certainly do not allow for Syria to initiate a new war against Israel. The north west of Idlib (under Turkey and jihadists control) and the north east (under the US occupation forces) are still occupied.
One important point though: if Trump considers the Lebanese Shebaa Farms as part of his gift of the occupied Golan Heights to Netanyahu, the situation may change because Hezbollah is said to be determined to continue its military campaign to recover the Lebanese farms. Unless Israel is willing to take the Golan and withdraw from the Shebaa Farms, Hezbollah might move its operation against Israel to the Golan- subject to the permission of President Assad.
Another issue is the presence of the Russian forces patrolling the Golan line to prevent any attack against Israel. It is also worth noting that for over 30 years, Presidents Hafez and Bashar al-Assad have never attacked Israel on this Golan front. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that Israel is relying on this combination of elements to impose its authority over a Syrian territory which it has been occupying for decades and expects little resistance to counter its move.
It should be recognised that Israel has been playing its cards well in Syria since the beginning of the war 8 years ago. Although Israel has openly and tacitly supported al Qaeda, ISIS, and other takfiri Islamist armed groups in Syria, it has paid little price in Western public opinion, as Western governments have done the same. It has adopted a politico-military policy to take advantage of the situation and has succeeded in every move, including bombing Syria and destroying Syrian army and Iranian military objectives. The timing of its attacks has been carefully chosen, giving the impression that its arms can reach anywhere. And it has refrained from provoking Hezbollah in Lebanon to avoid retaliation (in 8 years of war, only few exchanges in the area have been registered).
Netanyahu has managed to bring the US establishment to its side, to the point where the US President openly supports the Israeli Prime Minister’s election with the gift of the Golan Heights even as Netanyahu is due to visit Washington next week. Trump has saved Netanyahu domestically from a serious threat to his political future, and Trump expects similar favours from Israel at the time of the US election. In the midst of this, the Arab countries look on, powerless. They obey Trump’s diktat by coming closer and establishing open relationships with Israel, and by slowing down the resumption of diplomatic relations with Damascus. The gift of Jerusalem was a shock that demonstrated the impotence of Arab leaders.
In fact, nothing can be expected but shows of indignation from the United Nations and Europe. No serious steps can be expected from the Arabs, especially from those who are allies of the US and who have established overt and covert ties with Israel. Apart from a few flag burnings, no concrete response can be expected.
For all his lies, Trump may be the most honest US President to lead his country for decades, since all previous Presidents hid their real intentions, orchestrating the Israeli-Arab relationship in hiding, preparing moves against the Palestinian right of return, opposing the recognition of a Palestinian state, and approving Israeli control of the occupied territories. Now that the veil has fallen and the US openly supports Israeli radicalism, the Arab nations can be expected to do nothing.
Cover photo: US president Donald Trump (C-L), Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R), Jordan’s King Abdullah II (3-R), Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (2-R) and other officials pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017.