Trump’s Golan Gambit Threatens To Divide Gulf States and Israel and Stir Hezbollah Further

Washington’s support for Golan status may seem like a game to Trump, but it’s one which only plays into the hands of Hezbollah and increases regional tension.
Trump’s Golan Gambit Threatens To Divide Gulf States and Israel and Stir Hezbollah Further
Image by: Youssef Qabli/Inside Arabia

All eyes are on April 11, or at the least days which follow, not because of the Israeli elections but more because we are expected to see Trump’s Middle East peace process plan—or at least, his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s. And yet, already, it may well be that the unveiling will be delayed again: once again, Kushner seems to be at odds with the U.S. president. Trump has raced ahead with endorsing a plan to legitimize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory in a bid to help Benjamin Netanyahu with his re-election bid.

From February 25-28, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, visited six countries in the Middle East—Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE—to drum up support for the plan, which is rumored to include giving land and business opportunities to the Palestinians, although the Trump administration itself has yet to unveil publicly its long-delayed “deal of the century.”

But under-estimating the significance of the Golan to the Arabs was a big mistake on Trump’s part, and now any sort of deal is looking unlikely as Kushner’s lack of experience combined with Trump’s limited capacity of understanding basic facts or historical contexts, has led to what is already looking like a massive backfire.

At an Arab League summit, leaders of Arab states “absolutely” rejected U.S. recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

At an Arab League summit, leaders of Arab states “absolutely” rejected U.S. recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The Arab League closed ranks on April 1 against Donald Trump’s move to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, despite what was reported as “growing tensions” between the 22 member states. 

The group “affirmed that the Golan is occupied Syrian territory according to international law, the decisions of the UN and the Security Council” in a final declaration issued at the end of the one-day summit in Tunisia.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League’s secretary general, said the organization would present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council condemning the U.S. move and ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a legal opinion on the matter.

Yet it was the statement of the Saudi king which raised eyebrows and reaffirmed that the MbS-Trump relationship is nowhere near as close as many believe. King Salman bin Abdulaziz told fellow leaders his country “absolutely rejects any measures which could affect Syria’s sovereignty over Golan,” as he knows full well the incendiary implications of such an ill-conceived plan.

Israel wrestled the control of the border region from Syria during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and annexed it in 1981, although nearly all countries view the Golan Heights as occupied territory.

“Occupation is a crime and legalizing is a sin,” Gheit added.

The summit, which in recent months has been ridiculed by photos appearing on social media of many of its older members falling asleep in the afternoon, was attended by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Notably, he told Arab leaders at the summit that any resolution to the war in Syria “must guarantee the nation’s integrity,” including the occupied Golan Heights.

Military and geopolitical experts always fear a war between Israel and Hezbollah starting in the Golan, rather than in Israel itself or Lebanon.

But the Golan is a time bomb, which Trump doesn’t understand. Military and geopolitical experts always fear a war between Israel and Hezbollah starting in the Golan, rather than in Israel itself or Lebanon. It is a powder keg which instills so much anger and passion in regional players, and one which both Israel and Hezbollah (with Iran) believe can easily be captured and held. And therein lies the danger. The so-called bite-sized war which everyone – Israel, the U.S., Iran, Syria, Hezbollah—believes is entirely manageable, even more so than Syria.

But it is not only the geo-military problem of the Golan—and the risk of a regional war which it evokes (which Arab leaders understand and which Trump does not)—which is really even the heart of the matter.

Many pundits believe that Trump endorsing the Golan as Israeli territory at this precise time was all about backing his ally Benyamin Netanyahu as he fights for re-election under a cloud of corruption charges. This is true, but only in part.

Another reason why he chose the date to officially endorse the Golan was also about targeting U.S. hard-core pro-Jewish voters as a new demographic which he believes he needs for 2020. In what is being called a “Jexodus,” Trump is hoping he can spur migration of Jewish supporting voters who were traditionally with the Democrats to move across to the Republican party. Weirdly, it is this tiny percentage of voters whom he wants to use as bait to lure a much bigger voter group which represents something like 25% of the total electorate: Christian evangelists.

Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will not, in any way, contribute to regional stability, as Trump may believe. Worse, it further reduces the chances of Syrian-Israeli negotiations any time soon and merely provides more political capital for Hezbollah to justify having its forces in the South of Syria.

Recently U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew into Beirut and tried his best to drive a wedge between the so-called incumbent state and Hezbollah. But even Saad Hariri, who masquerades as an enemy of Hezbollah, showed Pompeo that this was not the way forward in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed group has an impressive support base.

According to Al Monitor, Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, described the U.S. move in a March 26 speech as a crucial and decisive event in the Arab-Israeli struggle, noting that “condemnation statements are no longer enough.” He stressed that the only way to regain Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian occupied lands from Israel is the resistance, a statement followed by reports of Hamas and Hezbollah patching up their differences and moving forward.

Nasrallah also pointed out that the real objective of Pompeo’s visit was to incite the Lebanese against each other.

Nasrallah also pointed out that the real objective of Pompeo’s visit was to incite the Lebanese against each other. He said that Washington has its eye on a civil war in Lebanon, adding that Pompeo’s problem with Hezbollah is that it provided the lion’s share of the hardest fighting in Syria which finally defeated not only ISIS, but a number of extremist jihadist groups also, many of whom were supported indirectly (and sometimes directly) by the State Department.

“The United States does not care about Lebanon’s interest or the interest of a certain Lebanese party,” he warned. “Its only concern is Israel, and any bet made on the United States is a bad bet.”

But who would bet on the “peace plan” when it already looks like a dead duck floating upside down in water? America, with all its might, cannot stir the Lebanese to fight one another, but it can cause a clash in the Golan which no one wants, least of all Israel. Like all of Trump’s foreign policy forays, we can only pray that this one falls by the wayside and that Pompeo at least learned something from his Beirut stop over.