Israelis believe they have never had it this good. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly brags about it. He claims that apart from a few non-conformists, most Arab countries have secretly normalised relations with Israel. Despite their public statements, they have, to all intents and purposes, abandoned the Palestinian cause.
But this is not the only reason why Israelis believe this is their golden era. After all, they have in the White House a US president who is ready to grant their every demand.
To his credit, President Donald Trump has fulfilled his election pledges to Israel. Last month, he pulled out from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) between Iran and the P5 plus Germany and the European Union. And, less than a week thereafter, he authorised the transfer of the US embassy to the occupied city.
Both acts sent shock waves across the Middle East, Europe and well beyond. While the Jerusalem move has triggered world-wide protests and heightened tensions, the US withdrawal from the JCPA has jeopardized the commercial interests of scores of European companies. No wonder business leaders and diplomats are now scrambling to salvage the accord.
If the Europeans thought this was as bad as it could get they were mistaken. This week they would have to pretend it’s business as usual and welcome the Israeli prime minister. He is on a charm offensive to convince European leaders why they should also withdraw from the JCPA.
But this is not all, there will be other demands. In recent days, Israeli politicians have been stepping up pressure on the Trump administration to recognise Israel’s “sovereignty” over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. The flurry of diplomatic activity in Tehran, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Damascus and Amman all suggest that something is amiss. Although the details still remain secret, the reality is that Israel wants firm guarantees that there will be no Iranian presence in south Syria. So Russia’s Vladimir Putin has provided the assurance that only Syrian troops will be stationed there and more importantly, there will be no Syrian belligerency or irredentism.
To many Iranians, it appears they have been double-crossed by Russia. In fact, they are struggling to find a formula to conceal their dismay. The messaging is unclear and confusing to say the least. While some officials in Tehran claim Iran has no military personnel in Syria, except in an advisory capacity; the country’s Ambassador to Jordan, Mojtaba Ferdowsi-pour, told a local newspaper, Al-Ghad, that the deployment of Iranian forces in Syria does not include the southern area.
Regardless of how much the diplomats may try to conceal the truth, there is a sense of palpable anger on the streets of Tehran. Two generations of Iranians have grown up believing that the Golan Heights are illegally occupied lands and must be restored to Syria. They now accuse their Russian allies of deception by implicitly conceding to Israel’s demand.
Admittedly, Israel’s claim to Syrian territory is as old as the Zionist movement itself. In February 1919, the Zionist Organisation presented a memorandum to the Paris Peace Conference demanding, in addition to Palestine, parts of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, all of which were to be placed under their political, administrative and economic control.
More ominously, the same memorandum also demanded free access to the Hejaz railway, which at the time ran from Damascus to Medina in Arabia.
With Donald Trump in the White House, it seems only a matter of time before the US recognises Israel’s “sovereignty” over the conquered Golan Heights. Similarly, with a Saudi leadership that is desperate to normalise relations with Israel, it would not be too long before Israel revives Jewish demands for access to Medina.
Surely, if they resurrected a “historical” claim to Palestine after 3,000 years, what will prevent them from doing the same for Medina after 1,439 years.
Seventy years after its creation, Israel is yet to officially define and declare its borders; it has unfinished business. In other words, its territorial vision is much more than what was earmarked by the UN in 1947. Plainly emboldened by the US endorsement of their annexation of Jerusalem, Israelis are now clamouring for similar moves to declare the Golan Heights as their “sovereign” territory.
This brazen contempt for the rule of law may bring momentary satisfaction and a sense of grandeur. But, because it goes against the basic principles of justice, it will in the long run, engender more conflict and turmoil in the region.
Furthermore, it will encourage other countries to seize foreign territories by force. The case of the Crimean Peninsula is a telling example. What moral authority will the US and its NATO allies now have to oppose Russia’s policies in Ukraine.
A good friend does not allow his partner to sleep walk into an inferno. He stops him from self-destructing. If the current US administration is a true ally of Israel, it would put an end to its expansionist land grabbing policies. And, as for the short-sighted Arab potentates, who have shamelessly abandoned Palestine, the warning is clearly written on the wall; today it’s the Golan Heights, tomorrow it will be Medina.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.