by Philip Roddis
Yesterday an Al-Monitor piece by Akiva Eldar contrasted Netanyahu’s success in getting Trump out of the Iran deal, and ‘recognising’ Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with his failure to pull off the same with Europe. While that contrast forms the thrust of his article, Eldar finds time to work in an aside on the Golan Heights:
Here, too, [Netanyahu] can take credit for a major victory: Last month’s annual State Department report on human rights around the world replaced “occupied territories” with “Israel, the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” If there’s no occupation, Israel can do whatever it wants in these territories, including theft of Palestinian lands, abuse of its residents and even deportation. If there is no occupation, Palestinians can be uprooted to make way for Jewish settlements, the 1993 Oslo Accord can be erased from the history books and such trivialities as international law can be ignored. After all, when Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iranian agreement, he was showing the world that international pacts signed by his country are at best a recommendation.
That’s strong language from Eldar, a former senior columnist with the Israeli liberal newspaper, Haaretz. So let’s take a quick history primer. The Golan is a seven hundred square mile plateau with the Yarmouk River to the south, Sea of Galilee and Israel to the west and Syria to the east. Wiki tells us that in Old testament times:
…the Golan was focus of a power struggle between the Kings of Israel and the Aramaeans based near modern-day Damascus. The Itureans, an Arab or Aramaic people, settled there in the 2nd century BCE and remained until the end of the Byzantine era. Jewish settlement in the region came to an end in 636 CE when it was conquered by Arabs under Umar ibn al-Khattāb. In the 16th century, the Golan was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and part of the Vilayet of Damascus until it was transferred to French control in 1918. When the mandate terminated in 1946, it became part of the newly independent Syrian Republic.
Between 1967 and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights had become occupied and administered by Israel, whereas the eastern third had remained under control of the Syrian Arab Republic, with the UNDOF maintaining a 266 km buffer zone … Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel .. until [Israel extended its] administration throughout the territory in 1981 .. UN Resolution 497 stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.” Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, citing UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”. However, the international community rejects Israeli claims to title to the territory and regards it as sovereign Syrian territory.
The description of Syria’s assault as a ‘civil war’ aside, the above is uncontentious. It sheds light on Akiva Eldar’s unequivocal tone in that opening quote. As a liberal he is offended by “theft of Palestinian lands” and a power status quo in which “such trivialities as international law can be ignored”. But there’s another aspect to the Golan issue, one neither Al-Monitor nor mainstream media are speaking of.
The Golan has oil – billions of barrels of it says the Economist, more than in Saudi Arabia say others.
Unlike in Iraq and Libya, I haven’t seen oil grabs as a significant motive for the West’s assault, direct and by proxy, on Syria in the name of aiding a heroic and only slightly Islamist (foreign too, but let’s not be pedantic) resistance to tyranny. Oil is an aspect but less by its presence in Syria, modest to negligible, than in the matter of which pipeline will supply Europe, the world’s biggest energy market. Even then, the pipeline is not key to understanding Syria’s ordeal. It is pipped by bigger questions of US ability to maintain regional and even global hegemony in the face of threats from China’s One Belt One Road project, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and fast growing realisation in all sectors of Russian and Iranian society that the USA is not to be trusted, and that its untrustworthiness is not new to Donald Trump’s presidency.
But the picture changes when Syria is taken, as indeed it should be taken, to include the Golan. The presence of oil there first came to my attention in an Economist piece of 2015 which does not make the more oil than Saudi claim but does quote US based Genie Energy as suggesting, on the back of test drillings, an oil reservoir “with the potential of billions of barrels”.
In itself there’s something remarkable in the reporting, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, of an American Oil Corporation test drilling for oil in an area of Syria unlawfully administered by Israel. I’m minded of Stephen Gowans’ recent piece, quoted in full on this site under the heading Privatising Syria. But I digress.
Just over a month ago. Christina Lin wrote in Asia Times that:
Indeed, Israel has intensified its defense of the Golan. Last June, when a mortar shell landed in the Golan, the Israeli air force attacked Syrian army positions in the village of Samadanieh al Sharqiyah in Quneitra province. In February, after its F-16 crashed in Syria, Israeli airstrikes took out half of Syria’s air defense and fired ground-to-ground rockets from the Golan Heights. It also supports rebel groups as a buffer force to keep the Syrian army and Iran-backed Hezbollah at bay.
In itself, there’s nothing especially eyebrow-raising here. But context is all, and the title of Lin’s piece is Partition of Syria: US and Israel eye Golan Heights Oil. She also has this to say:
By maintaining a US military presence in Syria and partitioning the country into spheres of influence similar to China in the 19th century, it would facilitate Israeli annexation of the Golan and allow US/Israeli energy companies to exploit the oil reserves.
I wish I had the word power to express my depth of anger at the venality, deceit and hypocrisy of our rulers. The best I can do is say it as I see it, and explain what I see in terms of the interests of profit overriding all else. The suffering of the Syrian people, for instance. What, tell me, does that actually mean in the context of the Murdoch owned Sunday Times telling us stuff like this?
Oh, did I not say? Rupert Murdoch is on the Genie Energy board. As are Dick Cheney, Larry Summers and former CIA Director James Woolsey. See that 2015 Economist piece.
Couldn’t make it up, could you?