Events are moving rapidly to a possible new war involving Israel, the United States, Syria and Russia. Were it to take place, I honestly hope not, it would be yet another stupid war over oil. Only this oil war somehow feels far more dangerous than the US war against Iraq or Libya or previous oil wars. It’s about the part of Syria named the Golan Heights.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first heads of government to go to the United States to meet Donald Trump on February 16, in Trump’s new role as President. After the event major media focused on the themes of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Iran nuclear deal or a Palestine two-state solution.
Virtually no mention was made by CNN or other US mainstream media of the most strategic point the two discussed. Netanyahu asked the US President to recognize the Israeli illegal occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, something no US President has done since Israel openly declared it theirs in 1981.
What has unfolded in the region since Netanyahu’s February 16 Trump talks gives reason to believe the US and Netanyahu’s Israel covertly agreed to a strategy to allow Trump to recognize Israel as the de facto occupier of Golan Heights amid what they will call the growing chaos of the Syrian “civil war.”
Two weeks following Netanyahu’s Washington talks the Jerusalem Post wrote about the real issue discussed between the two leaders: “The biggest news to come out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington is not what’s grabbing most headlines. Rather, it’s his decision to ask the US to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
The Israeli paper went on to argue, “the risk of returning the Golan Heights should be measured against the fact that Iran is actively setting up another forward command along Israel’s border with Syria…Capitalizing on Netanyahu’s idea will help the US limit Russia’s reemergence as a Middle East power broker after a 40-year absence.”
Israel, in violation of the UN Charter, illegally occupied the Golan Heights after the Israeli army took it in the 1967 Six Days War. When Israel declared applicability of Israeli law in the territory and began Israeli settlements in a de facto act of annexation of Golan Heights in 1981, the UN Security Council passed UN Resolution §497, which declared 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.”
Until now the official US Government position has been that the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on the acquisition of territory by force, and in contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolution §242 passed in November, 1967 which mandates, “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent (1967-w.e.) conflict.”
Location of the Syria Golan Heights annexed by Israel in 1981 in violation of UN Resolution 242
Some days after Netanyahu left Washington, in an OpEd in the Rupert Murdoch Wall Street Journal, Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director of the Washington pro-Israel think-tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argued that American recognition of Israel’s control of the Golan “would provide the Israeli government with a diplomatic win while helping the Trump administration signal to Russia and Iran that the US is charting a new course in Syria.” Dubowitz is an adviser to the Trump Administration on Iran and the Middle East. Other neo-conservative editorials echoed the theme. There is big change brewing in Washington and it looks ugly in terms of a possible US-backed war with Israel against Russia ally, Syria, over the Golan Heights. That immediately poses the question what Russia would do if it materializes.
Tillerson’s Strange ‘Global Coalition’
Against the backdrop of the Netanyahu talks on US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, the ensuing events begin to make strategic sense, mad though they may be.
On March 22 in Washington US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson convened a US Ministerial conference of something the Trump Administration calls the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS. The State Department said that a combined 68 nations and organizations were present. Washington explicitly stated that the three most important states with deep interest in defeating ISIS in Syria and the three parties essential to any serious move to dislodge ISIS in Syria – Russia, Iran and Syria – were not welcome. When asked, Secretary of State Tillerson quipped, “they’re not part of the global coalition.” Curious indeed.
In his remarks Tillerson declared that US policy of the Trump Administration will be to “the regional elimination of ISIS through military force. The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS.” In other words, a US-led permanent occupation of the ISIS-controlled areas of Syria. That echoes a recent Pentagon RAND report calling for the permanent partition of Syria by Turkey, Syrian “opposition” and US.
Israeli intelligence, in a recent annual evaluation, concluded that Hezbollah was not interested in sparking a war in 2017, but it warned of the danger of a “dynamic of escalation” leading to conflict. The Times of Israel also reports that the Netanyahu government has drawn up something codenamed Operation Safe Distance in which “up to 250,000 civilians cleared out of border communities if they come under major attack by…Hezbollah.” That “dynamic of escalation” appears to be precisely what Netanyahu’s IDF is engaged in in the Golan Heights.
The next act in the clearly staged Netanyahu Golan Heights drama aimed at isolating Russia as defender of the Assad Syrian regime, was the illegal air strike by Israeli air force F-16 jets against a major site outside Damascus, Syria. Israel claimed the site was a Hezbollah weapons depot. Some hours later on March 19 an Israeli drone hit a vehicle in the Golan Heights carrying Yasser al-Sayed who was killed on the spot. Sayed was reportedly a commander of a pro-regime militia and was close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad responded to the Israeli strikes inside Syria by firing S-200 missiles at the Israeli air force planes.
When an Israeli Arrow air defense missile intercepted the Syrian SA-5 missile fired against the invading Israeli Air Force jets as they left Syria, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declared to the press, Israel “will not hesitate” to destroy Syria’s air defense systems if that country ever again targets IAF jet fighters. That of course would bring Russia, provider of the Syrian air defense systems, into the developing fray.
DebkaFile.org, openly close to the Israeli military and Israeli intelligence, is claiming that Yasser al-Sayed was “on his way to join the Hezbollah forces” grouping at the Lebanon-Syria Golan Heights, under Iranian direction, preparing for a full war on Israel. DebkaFile writes, “Israel can be expected to intervene again to put a stop to this dangerous Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah ploy to exploit the turbulence in Syria for allowing Israel’s enemies to grab forward assault positions in Syria.”
A Revealing Moshe Dayan admission
Israel is carefully setting the propaganda stage that will now let it claim that a coalition of Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are preparing to forcefully retake the Syrian Golan Heights from the illegal Israeli occupiers. It’s a tried and tested Israeli IDF method of provoking an opponent, here Syria, then using the opponent’s predictable reaction to provocation as pretext for military strikes that escalate a confrontation they, the IDF, initiated in the first place.
In an off-record discussion with an Israeli journalist in 1976 before his death, Israeli General Moshe Dayan, who gave the order in the 1967 War to take the Golan Heights, admitted that it was deliberate Israeli provocations into Syrian Golan lands that gave Israel the manufactured pretext to invade and occupy.
Dayan told that to journalist Rami Tal, who kept his notes secret for 21 years until persuaded after Dayan’s death by Dayan’s daughter and others that it was important to publish the Dayan admission. The Israeli journalist wrote that when Tal claimed to Dayan that the Golan Heights were vital for Israeli security, Dayan interrupted him: “Never mind that. After all, I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started…It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.”
Today a similar provocation game is clearly in motion with provocative illegal Israeli jet strikes near Damascus and drone attacks in Golan Heights. The new element this time is the decided more Israel-friendly stance of the Trump Administration compared to that of Obama.
But there is another element Dayan was not aware of in the Syrian Golan Heights. What no one is openly discussing is the treasure that Israel’s Netanyahu is lusting after in the Golan Heights – Oil, huge, recently-discovered reserves of black gold in the Golan Heights.
Genie Energy and Golan Oil
The Israeli subsidiary of a Newark, New Jersey oil company, Genie Energy, has been given permission to drill for oil on the Golan Heights.
As I noted in a piece published on NEO in 2015, Genie Energy is no “penny stock” run-of-the-mill oil company. Its board of Advisors includes Dick Cheney. It includes former CIA head and chairman of the above-mentioned Foundation for Defense of Democracies, James Woolsey. It includes Jacob Lord Rothschild of the London banking dynasty and a former business partner of convicted Russian oil oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Before his arrest Khodorkovsky secretly transferred his shares in Yukos Oil to Rothschild.
Further this little-known Newark, New Jersey oil company board includes former US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, pro-Israel media mogul and owner of Trump’s favorite Fox News TV, Rupert Murdoch. Also on the board are former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt, a philanthropic friend of Israel and of Marc Rich, is also a board member of Woolsey’s neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which advises Trump among other things that it would be good for Washington to recognize Israel as legitimate owner of the Golan Heights lands taken by Dayan in the 1967 War.
The plot thickens indeed.
Genie Energy, tied to Netanyahu, to Trump, to a reportedly huge oil find in the illegally-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Something very ugly is being brewed between Washington and Tel Aviv and Newark, New Jersey.
Genie Energy in 2013 was granted exclusive oil and gas exploration rights to a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights by the Netanyahu government.
On October 8, 2015 only days after the surprise Russian announcement it had accepted the request of the elected Bashar al-Assad government to militarily intervene against ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists in Syria, Genie Energy made a major announcement. Yuval Bartov, chief geologist from Genie Energy’s Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil & Gas, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that his company had found a major oil reservoir on the Golan Heights: “We’ve found an oil stratum 350 meters thick in the southern Golan Heights. On average worldwide, strata are 20 to 30 meters thick, and this is 10 times as large as that, so we are talking about significant quantities.”
On January 10, 2017, Genie Energy Ltd. announced it was creating a new company, Atid Drilling Ltd., an on-shore drilling services venture based in Israel to drill for oil in the Golan Heights among other places. They will expand the drilling by Genie Energy’s subsidiary Afek Oil & Gas which since the October, 2015 announcement has completed five exploratory wells in Golan Heights.
The creation of Atid Drilling by Genie confirms they are convinced based on the preliminary drilling results that there is something “big” in Golan. A month later, in mid-February soon after Trump is sworn in as President, Netanyahu flies to Washington to discuss US recognition of Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights.
A few weeks later, Israel violates the Syrian airspace in an act of war, escalating tensions over the Golan Heights. Then on March 22, in an appearance before the US Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Defense Secretary James Mattis called for Congress to formally authorize use of US military force against ISIS/DAESH in Syria.
It is becoming increasingly clear than unless there is some very careful rethinking on the part of Washington and of Israel, we might find ourselves in another war for oil in of all places the Golan Heights, this one a war involving Syria, Russia, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah on one side and Israel and Rex Tillerson’s 68 nation “anti-ISIS coalition” on the other side, another senseless war over control of oil.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”