Trump Gifts Netanyahu’s Re-Election Campaign with Syria’s Golan Heights
Donald Trump’s tweet this week, which sought to legitimize the 52-year-old “Israeli” occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, is only the latest demonstration that US demands for compliance with international law do not encompass the country’s own policies.
“Israel” occupied the strategic plateau during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the territory in 1981.
But according to UN Security Council resolutions, including one that the Americans co-authored themselves, the Golan Heights remains a part of Syrian territory.
As such, Trump’s endorsement of Tel Aviv’s claim to the Golan is essentially an empty gesture. It will not change the internationally recognized status of the Golan Heights, nor will it get other states to follow suit.
And while Trump’s “irresponsible” announcement drew condemnation from the standard-bearers of resistance to Washington’s agenda – Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia – it is doubtful that the move will lead to any significant changes on the ground.
Instead, the US president is hoping that his message would reverberate throughout “Israel”, where the Trump administration’s key ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is fighting for his political survival.
Timing is everything
Trump’s tweet popped up as Netanyahu’s bid to secure reelection on April 9 was met with the specter of potential corruption charges, leading to a surge in the polls for his main rival and former army general, Benny Gantz.
It also comes just a few short days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House, leading to speculation that the US will officially endorse “Israeli” sovereignty over the occupied Golan as early as next week.
If this is indeed the case, such a declaration may very well hand Netanyahu another term in office.
The incumbent has long pushed for Washington’s seal of approval on the issue of the Golan Heights, and in recent months, he has stepped up his lobbying efforts.
Earlier in March, he toured the Golan with hawkish Republican Senator Lindsey Graham; in February, several members of the US Senate introduced legislation to sanction “Israeli” sovereignty over the mountainous area.
A favorable declaration from the White House just three weeks before “Israelis” head to the polls would certainly mark a symbolic victory for Netanyahu’s foreign-policy agenda, which already enjoys consistent support from the Trump administration.
Since coming into office, Trump has pulled his country out of the Iran nuclear deal, relocated the US Embassy to al-Quds (Jerusalem) and closed a Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.
But “Israel” is still a chapter in the broader tussle for power and influence between Western political elites, and Netanyahu is far from being the only one doing the lobbying.
Benny Gantz, who heads “Israel’s” recently formed Blue and White political alliance, is also heading to the US this month to address the annual conference of the powerful Jewish lobbying group, AIPAC (American ‘Israel’ Public Affairs Committee).
Netanyahu’s most prominent opponent is hoping to make nice with America’s left-wing figures, and of course, those pushing to unseat Trump.
Naturally, Trump’s Golan move will make it more difficult for Gantz to sell his message in “Israel”, where he is arguing that the next government needs to ‘regain the full support’ of Washington.
What’s more, the gifts bestowed upon Netanyahu by the White House have made it virtually impossible for Gantz to challenge the “Israeli” premier on foreign policy, especially as the leader of the Blue and White alliance has been led to exclaim that when it comes to ‘Israel’s’ external foes, “there is no right or left”.
No downside for Trump
From the point of view of the current US administration, there appears to be little to lose by recognizing “Israel’s” sovereignty over the Golan and handing Netanyahu his pre-election prize.
Trump himself has become quite accustomed to delivering shocks to international consensus, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to “Israel”. The American president therefore isn’t expecting any real opposition to the Golan move from any of his Western client states.
Condemnation coming from the Arabs will also be muted, or, at the very least, disingenuous. Gulf monarchies are not only invested in Trump’s political future, but have a major stake in Netanyahu’s, too.
In fact, the recent deployment of the most advanced American air and missile system to “Israel” signals that only Iran and Hezbollah are still perceived as real threats by Tel Aviv and Washington. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is being touted as Washington’s commitment to ‘Israeli’ security.
Viewed in a more focused geopolitical context, however, such measures have everything to do with the fact that the “Israeli” occupation of the Golan Heights and other Arab territories illegally held for decades has very few challengers left.
And both Trump and Netanyahu are well aware that one would be hard pressed nowadays to find any outside of the Iran-led Resistance Axis.