Experts warn the US seeks to counterbalance Russian and Iranian influence by recognising Israeli sovereignty over Golan, a move that is likely to translate into the US-crafted division of Syria.

US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a proclamation recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Washington on March 25 2019.
US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a proclamation recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Washington on March 25 2019. (Leah Millis / Reuters)

US President Donald Trump recently made another provocative move by recognising Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, a Syrian territory, which has been illegally occupied by Tel Aviv since 1967, sparking global outrage.

Much of the international community, ranging from the UN to the European Union, has flatly rejected Trump’s sovereignty decision on Golan Heights, seeing it as a violation of international law. 

"The UN's policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. 

Dujarric also said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “clear that the status of Golan has not changed."

Trump's Golan Heights move came as a breath of fresh air for Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's likely to face a tough challenge from his rivals in April polls.  

“There is a very important principle in international life. When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory, do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us,” a joyous Netanyahu said, praising Trump's decision and referring to the Six Days War in 1967, when Israel took Golan Heights from Syria. 

While some Israeli analysts argue that the US is going to get nothing from Israel in return, others think that Trump's announcement is in line with Washington's policy, which ultimately seeks to weaken the integrity of Syria and limit the growing Iranian and Russian influence in the war-affected country.

“Trump does not gift Golan to Israel, instead, it’s taking away Golan from Russia, which effectively takes shots in Syria. Golan has a prominent geopolitical importance [for both Syria and Israel],” said Deniz Ulke Aribogan, a prominent political scientist at Istanbul's Uskudar University. 

A UN vehicle drives in Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in Syria on March 26 2019.
A UN vehicle drives in Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in Syria on March 26 2019. (Omar Sanadiki / Reuters)

Aribogan, whose late father was one of the leading Turkish national intelligence agency officials and strategists, said that Golan is one of the clashing points between the US and Russia, and Trump's move gets in the way of Moscow’s geopolitical interests. 

“I read recent developments and political steps through the traces of Russia-US competition in the region,” Aribogan told TRT World. 

Despite the Assad regime’s recent gains against the opposition forces, she said, Syria still resembles a failed state where “it could be naive to think that they [the US] wouldn't take its share in a country which is in a fragmented state”.  

Cevat Ones, the former deputy director of Turkish national intelligence agency, offered a similar analysis, saying Washington wants to exert pressure on Russia and Iran by emboldening Israel in occupied Golan Heights. 

US Syria agenda

Trump's decision has created a perception among his rivals that instead of making an exit from the Syrian battlefield, the US preparing for a long haul. With Trump dilly-dallying on his withdrawal plan, the Syrian conflict appears to be heading toward another dark chapter, where foreign powers are likely to get entangled further.  

“The Golan decision means that the US has not changed its main political stance, which aims to change the borders of Syria,” Ones told TRT World, regarding the move as a way to increase its political presence in the war-ravaged country from its eastern regions to western regions. 

An Israeli soldier stands next to signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation point in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on May 10, 2018.
An Israeli soldier stands next to signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation point in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

While Russia and Iran have deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and irregular forces to back the Assad regime, the US has a limited presence of 2,000 troops. But it wields some influence in northeastern Syria, which amounts to one-third of the country, through its proxies led by the YPG-dominated SDF. 

With the help of US, the SDF militants, who number more than 50,000 according to various reports, now control the country’s two biggest dams and most of its oil fields. 

YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is considered a terror organisation by the US, EU and Turkey.

In his previous interviews with TRT World, Ones has repeatedly argued that Washington would not back down from its goal of dividing Syria and creating a Kurdish-dominated autonomous region, which will be a mirror image of the autonomous Kurdish region Washington carved out in northern Iraq in the 1990s, soon after the first Gulf War. 

“For imperialists, [the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK] it is an important political instrument” to divide Syria and to develop their future designs, Ones previously said. 

In addition to the US-backed SDF pressure coming from northeastern Syria, and now with the recent Golan decision, the Assad regime has been left to face another headache emerging from western Syria along its border with Israel. 

According to Ones, the Golan decision clearly shows to the world that both the division scheme of Syria as well as other “imperialist” designs for creating “the larger Middle East” will be realised with the help of Israel and other Arab states.

Netanyahu, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on March 11, 2019.
Netanyahu, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on March 11, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

“This development [over Golan] shows that the imperialist power [the US] wants to implement its aims in the Middle East with Israel,” Ones said, adding that Washington also wants to show its decisiveness to stay in Syria, further developing its plans. 

“The decision will strengthen terrorist organisations, bringing more tensions to proxy wars,” Ones observed. 

Evangelical-Zionist alliance

But experts think that the Golan decision could also indicate that Trump is making a move to galvanise his Evangelical base, which has traditionally given a strong support to Israeli positions, for the upcoming 2020 elections, in which he will face a fierce Democratic opposition. 

Trump received strong support from American Evangelical Christian communities during the 2016 presidential elections and he certainly wants to repeat that. 

“There is a political alliance between pious Zionists and Evangelicals,” said Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi-Kurdish political analyst and a former advisor to the Iraqi presidency, as Trump represents Evangelicals and Netanyahu represents pious Zionists. 

David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel and a Jewish American, right, says that Evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community,” during the dedication ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel and a Jewish American, right, says that Evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community,” during the dedication ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

American Evangelicals have traditionally been strong supporters of Israel, believing the Biblical prophecy that indicates Jews would be in the promised land, Israel, as God’s chosen nation during the apocalypse. Thus they have worked to lobby Trump to align his policies with the prophecy.

Trump needs to move fast because the Evangelical base might not find another president like him to realise the dream of modern Israel as an exclusively Jewish state to claim the borders of the ancient one, according to Bulovali. 

“Golan is an important location to clearly define and secure the borders of Israel against its enemies,” Bulovali viewed, saying that with the annexation of Golan, Israel partly fulfils the promise in its establishment as to be a secured Jewish homeland. 

He also described the latest move as one of the most important developments in Israeli history after the 1917 Balfour declaration, which favoured "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", and the official establishment of Israel in 1948 under the UN blessing.  

Trump recently showed his Evangelical sentiment by threatening Turkey with sanctions to release Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical priest, who was arrested by Turkish authorities due to his connections with FETO, the group behind 2016 coup attempt in Turkey in which 251 people died and thousands more were injured.

In addition to that, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jewish American businessman and an advisor to the president, is a great friend of both Israel and Netanyahu, tirelessly lobbying on behalf of Israeli positions since Trump came to power. 

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, also converted to Judaism, leaving her origin faith, Christianity, after her marriage with Kushner, adding a possible emotional drama to Trump’s Israeli love affair.  

Source: TRT World