Gift to Bibi or Blow to Syria? Possible Motives Behind US Golan Heights Decision

© AP Photo / Ariel SchalitA mock road sign for Damascus, the capital of Syria, and a cutout of a soldier, are displayed in an old outpost in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights near the border with Syria, Thursday, May 10, 2018
A mock road sign for Damascus, the capital of Syria, and a cutout of a soldier, are displayed in an old outpost in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights near the border with Syria, Thursday, May 10, 2018 - Sputnik International
US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel has not affected the United Nations' stance on the sovereignty of the disputed region. The international organisation still condemns the annexation of the territory that was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.

US President Donald Trump has once again proven his committment to friendship with Israel: first, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and now he has signed a proclamation recognising Israel's sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

"We’ve seen Donald Trump move the Embassy to Jerusalem. We've seen him end the Iran deal. We've seen him cut all aid to the terrorist regime, the Palestinian Authority. We’ve seen him throw the PLO out of Washington not allowing them to have offices there. We've seen him leave the United Nations Human Rights Council because almost all their resolutions are against Israel. We've seen him stop funding to UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). […] Israel has had control of the Golan Heights for 52 years; securing it in a defensive war. He [Trump] realises Israel must keep the Golan Heights", says Morton Klein, an American economist and pro-Israel activist.

While Netanyahu hailed the move as a historic day, the unilateral decision has triggered a wave of indignation across the globe, with a number of European, Arab, and Asian countries denouncing it as a violation of international law.

READ MORE: US to Redraw Maps to Include Golan Heights as Part of Israel — Report

Damascus, which considers the Golans to historically be a part of Syria's territory, rebuked Trump's recognition as an act of aggression against Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Is It About Syria?

Syria’s United Nations Ambassador Bashar Jaafari has condemned the United States over the controversial — and illegitimate — decision, instead pitching an idea of transferring two US states, North and South Carolina, to Israel.

Given Trump's decisions towards Syria, including ordering airstrikes on Damascus in response to alleged chemical attacks without waiting for the official probe to end, the unconditional support for Israel has widely been viewed as another attempt to undermine Syria, where Washington has enjoyed little success in fighting Daesh*.

READ MORE: Decision on Golan Heights Was Well Coordinated Between US Agencies — State Dept

Even though Trump has repeatedly bragged about eradicating Daesh in Syria, some scholars and experts cast doubt that this victory is due to the United States' efforts.

"In the area under US control in northeast Syria, there were the remnants of ISIS [Daesh], who gathered in the area because the US offered them a safe haven for a couple of years without attacking them. And suddenly they woke up because Trump wants to leave [Syria]. And once he attacked ISIS and that is over and now he realised that he made a mistake because he needs ISIS to stay there because he allows Syria by eliminating ISIS east of the Euphrates River to have a clear passage between Tehran, Baghdad, and, Damascus. Therefore, no, it is not the US who eliminated ISIS. It is in the first place the Syrian Army and its allies that are Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia", Elijah J. Magnier, Al-Rai Chief International, a veteran war correspondent, terrorism & CT analyst, says.

The other thing is that the United States has "closed all the opportunities for any kind of settlement with Israel about the Golan Heights", Dr Bassam Abu Abdallah, Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Damascus University and a former Syrian diplomat, assumes.

"Trump is telling the Syrian government, the Syrian people that 'you have only one option – either you will accept my decision, or you will go another way'. Donald Trump should know that 'another way' is a resistance; and in this aspect the resistance is all instruments in the hands of the Syrian people, Syrian government, we will use and no party here in Syria or in the international community will accept that".

Silhouette sculptures of Israeli soldiers are pictured next to a sign for tourists showing the respective distances to Damascus and Baghdad from an army post on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 20, 2019. - Sputnik International
Trump's Golan Move Against Whole World, Syria to Retaliate - War Correspondent
The former diplomat thinks that the international community knows that Trump had no right to give the Syrian land to Israel, and by "working as a member of the Israeli government", POTUS "destroyed the whole history of American diplomacy concerning the Palestinian issue and the Golan Heights".

In the meantime, Ejm Alrai, a War correspondent, Terrorism & CT analyst, has voiced another opinion, suggesting that by taking such drastic decisions, President Trump is "providing an incentive for Syria and its allies to attack Israel".

"Netanyahu’s preoccupation with re-election has made him careless about Israel’s domestic security. Today, Israeli citizens are looking for more peace of mind and less war, whereas Netanyahu is pushing the entire country towards a constant state of tension where war could break out at any moment. This announcement can be used by Israel’s neighbours to justify any future attacks against Israel", Alrai assumes.

According to Dr Ahmad Merei, a Syrian MP, the Arab Republic now "has all options" to reclaim its territory.

"We are still fighting terrorism on the ground and that doesn’t mean that the Syrian people forgot about the occupied Syrian Golans… I said it before when we finish fighting terrorist groups, we will go to fight Israel to liberate our land", Merei states.

Boosting Bibi's Chances in the Elections?

Another widespread version that's been discussed among experts and journalists is that Trump's move could have been motivated by his desire to bolster Netanyahu's chances in the upcoming elections: the Israeli prime minister and the US president are well known for having a very special bond.

READ MORE: US May Lose Role as Mideast Mediator Over Golan Decision — LAS Envoy to Russia

Moshe Maoz, a former adviser to Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, considers this move timed and well-intended to benefit Netanyahu, who despite facing indictment on bribery charges at home, still enjoys much popularity among Israelis.

"It is not only this step. It follows another perhaps more important move by Trump to back East Jerusalem as part of Israel and capital of Israel, which is against international law. So, the combination of these two would help Netanyahu in the election, no doubt about it. And the major opposition of the Blue and White are trying to imitate Netanyahu and to show also that they are so militant against Syria, against the Palestinians. So, why vote for a substitute? Israelis always vote for the original, which is Netanyahu", Maoz points out.

While not directly linking the recognition with Trump's political support for Netanyahu, Ariel Bulshtein, a Likud central committee member, believes that the decision will still be a defining factor when Israelis go to the polls in April.

Skyline of downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. - Sputnik International
Syria to US on Golan Heights: 'You Can Give Israel North and South Carolina'
Such a "gift" to Netanyahu ahead of the election may come with a price: while Jews in the United States normally vote for the Democrats, Trump is probably expecting Israel to use this "payback for lobbying in the US to support him", a Republican candidate, in the 2020 presidential race, Elijah J. Magnier deliberated.

On top of this, there's been much speculation around the contents of the so-called Deal of the Century that the Trump administration has been working on for years in order to bring peace to the Middle East and which it promised to unveil after the Israeli elections.

Taking into account Trump's obvious fondness for Israel — he has already recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, relocated the embassy, and most recently recognised Israel's sovereignty over the Golans, there's little left to the imagination as to what the long-desired peace deal could be about and what it actually could offer to the Palestinians.

READ MORE: Prague Considers Golan Heights Occupied Territory — Czech Foreign Minister

While some might think that the recognition was made in exchange for Israel agreeing to some concessions to finalise the deal with Arab nations, Magnier is quite skeptical about its success, suggesting that it is no longer relevant.

"Now, regarding the 'Deal of the Century', it is no longer on the table at the moment because the Arabs can’t handle so many things coming from the US even if they are US allies. So, Trump gave Jerusalem. He is taking Palestinian territory and giving it to Israel. He is taking Syrian territory and giving it to Israel. And obviously, he has also taken Lebanese territory, the Shebaa Farms and Kfarchouba that were occupied by Israel along with the Golan Heights, to Israel", Magnier says, adding that Washington is no longer a "partner of the peace process in the Middle East" either for Palestinians, or for oil-rich Arab nations.

Any Consequences?

Although a vast number of countries have publicly condemned Trump's decision, it's quite unlikely that the move will backfire. The world did witness something like this before when POTUS recognised Jerusalem and moved the US Embassy to the newly-designated capital of Israel — but Washington got off with a simple condemnation.

READ MORE: UNSC Holds Meeting on Syria Amid US Recognition of Golan Heights

Ariel Bulshtein is convinced that there will be no immediate consequences, since behind closed doors, the majority of the countries recognise the Golan Heights as Israel's territory as a fait accompli, because they realise they cannot change the state of affairs.

"They do not want to pronounce it publically, but even the representatives of the majority of Arab states in quiet talks far away from TV cameras understand that this is part of Israel, you cannot change it. If you are talking about the European Union, the European Union doesn’t want to be the first force to recognise it, but a lot of European countries that are members of the European Union actually do it. For example, European ambassadors visit the Israeli Golan Heights regularly; they don’t have any problem [with doing] it. This is still not the official position, not the official policy, but I am pretty sure that it will change in a matter of months or a couple of years", he says.

Arab nations, which logically should have been outraged by the decision to recognise the strategically important region as part of Israel, their historic foe, have seemed to be quite reserved in their statements.

READ MORE: Islamabad Says Shares 'International Outrage' Over US Decision on Golan Heights

Morton Klein thinks that, for instance, Saudi Arabia did condemn the move, but didn't "mean it":

"I think they did this, in my opinion, for the Arab street. Because they think that Arabs might want to see an Arab country condemning America for supporting Israel keeping more land that they've been controlling. I don’t think there will be any response of any consequence. That’s my opinion", Klein notes.

An escalation between Israel and Syria, who described Trump's decision as a "blatant attack on its sovereignty", is also not an option, scholars agree. The country, which has been quagmired in a war for roughly 8 years, is too weak to strike back and reclaim its territory, Moshe Maoz insists.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia Rejects US Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty Over Golans

Dr Ahmad Merei points out that the Arab states, namely the Gulf States, have established good relations with Israel, and what pushed Trump to make the decision is the "Arab world’s silence".

"He tested them when he recognised al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel and the whole world did nothing. So the states in the region, especially the Arab world, have no problem when Trump recognises Israeli sovereignty over occupied Syrian Golan and we know that Arab world normalised relations with Israel. So, we can say that the American- Israeli aggression against Syria was made in front of the eyes of the Arab world", Merei says.

*Daesh, also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State, is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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