Israel’s Agenda in Post-War Syria

Recent news coverage suggests that there is a great deal of confusion about America’s withdrawal from the war in Syria, a war that American troops attended without an official invitation.  Recent developments in Israel show how geopolitically complex the situation has become and how Washington has tried to clear up any confusion.

Here is the announcement that has led to consternation in the military-industrial complex and the resignation/retirement of Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis:

Here is more on the subject:

…and even more:

Here is what John Bolton had to say in Jerusalem in early January 2019 when he appears to contradict his boss on the Syria file:

Here’s a quote from Mr. Bolton:

We’re going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again, and to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured.

So, in contrast to the President, the National Security Advisor is pretty clearly stating that ISIS is not necessarily defeated.  What is even more interesting is his comment that the United States wants to “make sure that the defense of Israel…is absolutely assured.

Let’s look at that comment in more detail and put it into context.  Here are several tweets from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from January 6, 2019, the day of his meeting with John Bolton:

Prime Minister Netanyahu met this evening with US National Security Adviser @AmbJohnBolton.

“Your visit to Israel gives us an opportunity to do two things. First, it gives us an opportunity to thank the Trump administration for the extraordinary support you’ve shown Israel. pic.twitter.com/3MINGNd02X

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 6, 2019

Now, here is the clincher:

In Israel’s eyes, the dying days of the eight year civil war in Syria is all about the Golan, the high point of land along the northeast border between Israel and its neighbour, Syria.  

Here is a map showing the Golan Heights:

I have driven through much of the Golan back in the mid-1980s and a more God-forsaken piece of land you would be hard-pressed to find. Since that time, Israel has settled the Golan in violation of international humanitarian law, international human rights laws and several United Nations resolutions   The Israeli government plans to spend hundreds of millions of shekels to increase the population by up to 100,000 additional settlers by 2020 from its current level of 50,000 (2016 data).  

The Golan Heights is of significant strategic importance since it is the high ground that overlooks the entirety of pre-1967 northern Israel.  From this strategic position, Syria was often accused of launching attacks against Israeli civilians who lived in the Huleh Valley.  The Golan was occupied by Israel in June 1967 after the Six Day War and was briefly lost to Syrian forced during the Yom Kippur war of October 1973.  In December 1981, the Knesset voted to annex the Golan which is now under Israeli civilian law.  While Syria has adhered to a ceasefire on the Golan since 1974, according to Israel, the Syrian government still deployed hundreds of thousands of troops on the Israeli front near the Golan heights.  In 1996 – 1997, Syria began to renew threats of war against Israel by making threatening troop movements in the region, however, the Israeli Defense Forces countered Syria’s moves.  On April 17, 2016, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu made the following comments at a Cabinet meeting held on the Golan:

I convened this celebratory meeting in the Golan Heights to send a clear message: The Golan will always remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights…

It is time that the international community recognized reality,” Netanyahu said. “Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the border itself will not move. Secondly, after 50 years it is time that the international community realized that the Golan will remain under Israeli sovereignty…

The Golan was an integral part of the Land of Israel in ancient times. That is documented by dozens of ancient synagogues around us. And the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel in the present time.

Here’s what he said to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on April 21, 2016:

As for the Golan Heights, we cannot go back to the times when our villages, our children were attacked from the Golan Heights. That is why within the agreement or without the agreement (with Syria) the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Netanyahu was being very clear on his views of Israel’s retention of the Golan because a draft document for a Syrian peace agreement being circulated at the time by the United Nations called from Israel to return the Golan to Syria.

In addition, in 2016, the United Nations adopted a resolution by a margin of 168 in favour to 7 against (Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and the United States) on the “…permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources” by the terms of which the Assembly demanded that Israel stop exploiting, damaging, depleting or endangering natural resources in that Territory.  This resolution also  recognized the Palestinians’ right to claim restitution for damage, loss, depletion or endangerment of natural resources due to illegal measures taken by Israel and its settlers.

Here is an excerpt:

1.) Reaffirms the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and of the population of the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources, including land, water and energy resources.

2.) Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, cease the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of the natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

Obviously, this resolution flies in the face of Israel’s beliefs about its control over the Golan Heights.  From recent comments by Benjamin Netanyahu, it is very clear that Israel’s agenda in the Syrian conflict is to retain control of the Golan Heights no matter what the international community may say. 

Given this information and the recent appearance of John Bolton in Jerusalem, at the very least, it appears that the timeline for American troop withdrawal from Syria is fluid, largely because Israel wants to ensure that its agenda in Syria is achieved before the United States disappears from the scene.

Obviously, this resolution flies in the face of Israel’s beliefs about its control over the Golan Heights.  From recent comments by Benjamin Netanyahu, it is very clear that Israel’s agenda in the Syrian conflict is to retain control of the Golan Heights no matter what the international community may say. 

Given this information and the recent appearance of John Bolton in Jerusalem, at the very least, it appears that the timeline for American troop withdrawal from Syria is fluid, largely because Israel wants to ensure that its agenda in Syria is achieved before the United States disappears from the scene.

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