Who’s After Golan Heights Riches?
Prominent American neocons and the state of Israel have their eyes on Syrian energy reserves.
By Richard Walker
A planned push by U.S. senators to recognize Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights hides an effort by rich, powerful neocons and their Israeli backers to seize energy riches from what international law declares is part of Syria.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) toured the Golan Heights on March 11 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and declared that the Golan Heights had a rich Jewish history and was part of the state of Israel. Had he checked history books and a map of the region he would have learned that the Golan Heights are situated in southeastern Syria, bordering the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of drinking water. He would also have discovered that they were illegally seized by Israel in the 1967 war and have been illegally occupied ever since. The Golan Heights is therefore not part of the state of Israel and never was.
Netanyahu has directed the building of extensive Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights, but it is not the first time Jews have tried to populate the area. In 1894, efforts to colonize the Golan Heights by Jewish banker Edmond de Rothschild were thwarted by Arabs and Ottoman Empire laws restricting foreigners from settling the area.
None of this seems to matter to Graham and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the trio at the forefront of arguing that Congress should pass legislation giving Israel the Golan irrespective of international law. In tandem with their effort, the U.S. State Department has stopped referring to the area as Israeli-occupied territory and instead calls it Israeli “controlled territory.”
Netanyahu, facing criminal prosecution and an upcoming election, would love nothing better than a U.S. declaration that the Golan Heights is now Israel’s. His friends in Washington, including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law advisor Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appear ready to give him that gift. But there is a sinister motive for a sudden gifting of the Golan Heights to Israel, and it has its genesis in plans that took shape years before Trump entered the White House. It concerns a neocon strategy, ongoing now for almost a decade, to access oil and gas riches under the Golan Heights.
It began with powerful neocons and their friends in Israel deciding that the best way to get full control of the Golan Heights was to call for regime change in Syria so that there would be no Syrian leadership around to continue petitioning the UN on the issue. Despite many UN resolutions telling Israel to give back the territory, it has refused to do so, with Washington’s backing on the Security Council.
In recent years, Netanyahu has done everything possible to take down the Assad regime in Syria, even training and arming al-Nusra terrorists. He also ordered hundreds of bombing runs against targets in Syria, arguing that he was eliminating Iranian and Hezbollah forces there.
His security issue was a ruse. In 2011, a little-known American company called Genie Energy, based in New Jersey, was granted rights to illegally explore 153 square miles of the Golan Heights for oil and gas. It was part of the IDT Corporation until it was registered as a separate entity on the New York Stock Exchange.
The membership of Genie Energy’s Strategic Advisory Board testified to its neocon lineage. Prominent on the board were Dick Cheney, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former CIA director James Woolsey, senior partner in Genie Energy Jacob Lord Rothschild, billionaire hedge funder and member of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Michael Steinhardt, Bill Clinton’s energy secretary Bill Richardson, and Larry Summers, Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. The Israeli subsidiary of Genie is now run by former Israeli Gen. “Effie” Eitam, a close buddy of Netanyahu who lives in one of the large Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights. Eitam is an extreme religious figure who has recommended removing all Israeli Arabs from Israel.
By 2013, as the war in Syria raged and the U.S. pushed for regime change with Israel’s backing, Netanyahu and Genie Energy knew from surveys of the Golan Heights that it held massive energy reserves. It was confirmed by a geologist with Afek Oil & Gas, Genie Energy’s Israeli subsidiary.
With Trump in the White House, there has been a renewed push by Genie Energy and its Israeli backers to convince members of the Senate to change policy on the Golan Heights to favor Israel, claiming it is really Jewish territory and is therefore strategic to the defense of the state of Israel. Missing from the storyline is the massive wealth waiting to be snapped up.
Ryan Zinke, Trump’s former interior secretary, who is under federal investigation, knew about the energy potential in the Golan Heights when he visited the region in 2017. He met with Eitam, who was then a politician running Afek. Eitam said their meeting had been arranged by a friend in Montana, and that they never discussed energy issues, a story few believed.
It’s unlikely the back story of Genie Energy will dissuade anyone in the Senate or the White House from doing Netanyahu’s bidding, especially after Graham declared that the Golan Heights was already part of the state of Israel and had a rich Jewish history. He deliberately ignored the fact that it is illegally occupied territory with a rich Syrian Arab history.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.