By Eve Mykytyn
The US led bombing raid on Syria on April 13th came at an odd time. The civil war in Syria has basically been won by Assad, and in response to the calming of tensions, President Trump said on April 4 that he intended to withdraw US troops from Syria. Three days later, Assad allegedly used chemical weapons on Syrian civilians and from there talk of war began to be openly encouraged by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Almost immediately, some skepticism arose as to why Assad would use chemical weapons after the war was essentially won. US Secretary of Defense General Mattis was reduced to saying he ‘believed’ there had been a chemical attack. In any case the rationale for bombing Syria on April 13 was weakened by the fact that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to arrive in Syria to examine the claim of chemical weapons use on April 14, the day after the US led bombing. Bombing in advance of the arrival of inspectors seems a bit like an attempt to cut off verification.
Another strange part of the narrative was how suddenly unified our ordinarily discordant US elected leaders were on the necessity of bombing Syria. Certainly, the timing might have been useful for Trump, stealing headlines just as Comey’s tell all book came out, but then Trump’s presidency has, since its inception, run at a 3 scandal a day pace. Rather than covering up scandals, Trump seems instead to revel in the publicity. The Democrats, even the leaders of the so-called resistance, offered no resistance to the bombing plan other than to grumble about the potential future need for congressional approval. When both sides of our political spectrum converge on what seems to be an awful idea located in the middle east it is hard not to suspect that Israel is somehow involved.
But why would Israel prefer a civil war next door, fought by Assad against shifting Islamic factions, some no doubt more hostile to Israel than Assad? I think I can point to a possible reason. During the ‘67 war, Israel took 2/3 of the Golan Heights from Syria. Although the UN and others still classify the land as ‘occupied,’ in 1981, Israel declared its control of the entire territory and the population of the Golan Heights is now at least half Israeli. While Israel has claimed that it took additional land in ’67 and after to act as a buffer zone around Israel, the resource rich Golan Heights have provided Israel with much more than a buffer zone. “In fact, the Golan Heights contributes a quenching one-third of Israel’s entire water supply.”
The Golan Heights has also provided Israel’s first major oil find. Afek Oil and Gas, a division of Genie Oil has obtained oil rights for the huge oil fields in the Golan Heights. The company crowed in a letter to investors that, “Billions of barrelsof Israeli oil had been tapped [in the Golan Heights.]”
Genie Oil has powerful political connections. Rupert Murdock, Vice President Cheney, Jacob Rothschild and Larry Summers are among its Board Members. The ex-chairman of Genie Energy's former parent company, IDT Corp., is Ira Greenstein, a family friend of Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Greenstein currently works on the White House staff.
In 2017, US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with the far-right Israeli politician and head of Afek Oil, Efraim Etiam. Etiam has called Israeli Arabs a "cancer" and said that "we will have to kill all [the Palestinians].” The meeting gave an apparent, and probably an actual US seal of approval to Afek’s oil extraction from disputed territory that the international community has explicitly said does not belong to Israel.
So why does Israel prefer a civil war to peace so close to its water and oil bonanza? I would guess that Israel does not want a strong leader to challenge its right to the spoils of war. There appears to be a tentative coalition of Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria. While no one since 1999 has seriously challenged Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, Israel seems to prefer a neighbour consumed with internal fighting to a strong Syria that may be part of a powerful coalition.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) provides powerful evidence that Israel has undertaken to keep Syria is a state of conflict. UNDOF’s reports have shown the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ to be quite democratic in handing out aid to armed rebel groups, including the official Al-Qqaeda affiliate in Syria. Israel has claimed the aid is ‘humanitarian,’ but that claim contrasts with Israel’s official stated policy to “let both sides bleed” in order to prolong the war for as long as possible so as to weaken Syria and its allies.
So, the US, the UK and France bombed Syria on the basis of an unproven claim of chemical warfare and, if the bombing raid proves successful, the only real practical outcome might be to prolong a brutal civil war in Syria so that Israel’s claim to water and oil rich land will be unlikely to be challenged.