By Tim Daiss
Developments are unfolding that continue to put the U.S. at odds with much of the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia. On Monday, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in what many media outlets called an election boost for visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The move prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land. The Syrian foreign minister said the same day that U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will lead to its isolation, according to state television in Syria.
Fellow-NATO member Turkey has also come down hard over Trumps Golan Heights decision, calling it a grave violation of international law. “This unfortunate decision…demonstrates that the U.S. Administration continues its approach to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution in the Middle East,” a Turkey foreign ministry statement said. “This decision is completely null and void for Turkey,” the statement added.
The 22-member state Arab League also took issue with Trump’s controversial move. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, saying on Monday the decision does not change the area’s status, according to a statement published by Egypt’s state news agency MENA.
Territory gained during Six Day war
Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981 in a move still not recognized internationally. Additionally, the UN does not recognize territorial claims over land gained during the war. Adding angst to Trump’s move, the Six Day War still lingers in the minds of many Arabs that saw initial victory on the battlefield turned into humiliating defeat at the hand of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Losses for the Arab coalition, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, during the brief conflict, were huge. Egyptian casualties numbered more than 11,000, along with 6,000 Jordanian casualties and 1,000 Syrian casualties, compared with only 700 for Israel. The Arab armies also suffered crippling losses of weaponry and equipment. The lopsidedness of the defeat demoralized both the Arab public and the political elite at the time.
During the war, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights; the status of these territories remain a major point of contention in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. These captured territories also created buffer zones around the initial state of Israel.
Early Tuesday morning, behind its other Arab allies, Saudi Arabia also denounced Trump’s Golan Heights move. “Attempts to impose fait accompli do not change the facts,” a Saudi Press Agency statement said. It added the Golan Heights was an “occupied Syrian Arab land in accordance with the relevant international resolutions”.
“It will have significant negative effects on the peace process in the Middle East and the security and stability of the region,” it said. The Saudi Press Agency report also described Trump declaration as a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and of international law.
However, criticism for Trump’s recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory isn’t coming just from Arab countries, but from U.S. allies as well. An editorial in the London-based Financial Timesyesterday said “Donald Trump has once again displayed a reckless disregard for international norms by announcing that the US should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.”
In doing so, the U.S. president has made his boastful pledge that he will deliver the ‘ultimate deal’ to end the Arab-Israeli conflict seem even more preposterous,” it added.
An even more strongly worded opinion piece in Berlin-based DW news said Trump’s Golan initiative was “ignorant and dangerous.” However, in a side shot, it actually praised the president while criticizing his Golan move. “It is possible that Trump’s battering-ram style may very well lead to unexpected successes when it comes to North Korea and China. But his intention to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights is in another category altogether,” the piece added.
Pragmatic world view
On the other hand, it can be argued that Trump’s move fits into his Middle Eastern plan, vastly different than that of his predecessors, particularly Barack Obama who offended Gulf State monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia, when he praised the Arab Spring in 2011, as “the arch of history.” Trump’s plan in the Middle East continues to be more pragmatic, centering around a decidedly Trumpesque agenda. Moreover, he doesn’t mind stepping on toes to achieve these ends. In his world view, a secure Israel, the removal of the Iranian threat, and a strong working relationship with Saudi Arabia to help against Iran, as well as having influence over Saudi oil production to keep a lid on global oil prices seems to suffice.
It remains to be seen how Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory will impact U.S.-Saudi relations. Yet, as far back as 1945 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meet Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud on the heavy cruiser USS Quincy along the Suez Canal during the waning days of World War II, the largest sticking point between the two fledgling allies was U.S. support of a then-proposed state of Israel and Palestinian concerns over such a state.
These two factors have plagued relations between Washington and Riyadh ever since, even leading to the 1973 Arab oil embargo that unsuccessfully tried to get Israel to give up lands gained during the Six Day War in 1967. It did, however, bring the U.S. and its Western allies to its knees economically, ushering in a major geopolitical shift that persists to this day. Only now, as the U.S. produces more than 12 million b/d of oil, has the country started to remove that threat of economic coercion.