Israel Covets Golan's Water and Now Oil
June 9, 2016
Jonathan Marshall / Consortium News & Nafeez Ahmed / Middle East Eye
Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu is defiantly asserting permanent control over the occupied Golan Heights, a determination strengthened by Israel's extraction of water and now possibly oil from the land. On June 1, Israeli police arrested an Israeli journalist for "incitement to violence and terrorism" after the reporter exposed Israel's plans to seize oil from the Golan Heights, a 460-square-mile region of Syria seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.
(June 7, 2016) -- On June 1, Israeli police burst into the home of an Israeli journalist, confiscated his computer and camera, and arrested him for "incitement to violence and terrorism."
His employer, Iran's government broadcasting company, said the Druze reporter had antagonized the Netanyahu government with his hard-hitting reports on Israel's plans for "stealing" oil from the Golan Heights, a 460-square-mile region of Syria seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.
Such reports come at a particularly sensitive time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli politicians, who are seeking to take advantage of the ongoing war in Syria to cement Israel's control over the Golan.
Their allies include such influential Americans as Rupert Murdoch, Dick Cheney, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, all of whom are backing an oil-drilling operation of doubtful legality in the occupied region.
Besides its strategic value and potential oil, the Golan Heights is a major source of Israel's fresh water and agricultural products and a leading tourist destination. If exploratory drilling unlocks as much oil as some geologists predict, the occupied region could turn Israel into "an energy powerhouse."
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, in violation of the United Nations' 1967 General Assembly Resolution 242, which called for the eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.
Rejecting Israel's claim, the UN Security Council immediate declared the attempted annexation "null and void and without international legal effect." Within a few months, however, the controversy was overshadowed by the international crisis following Israel's massive invasion of Lebanon.
As recently as January 2010, the UN General Assembly once again reaffirmed the illegality of Israel's claim to the land and called on Israel to desist from "changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and, in particular, to desist from the establishment of settlements" in the area. But that demand came much too late to stop Israel's systematic land grab.
The respected Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported in 2010 that "Neglect and ruin are everywhere. . . . Apart from the four Druze villages at the foot of Mount Herman, [all Syrian villages] were all destroyed, in most cases down to their foundations. . . . Most were wiped off the face of the earth in a systematic process of destruction that began right after Israel's occupation of the Golan."
Challenging the myth that the local population simply fled during the 1967 war, the newspaper reported that the Israeli Defense Forces systematically expelled villagers and then began destroying their homes.
An Israeli commander estimated that 20,000 civilians "were evacuated or left when they saw that the villages were starting to be destroyed by bulldozers and they had nowhere to return to." Census figures indicate that more than 100,000 Syrians lost their homes and property.
Israel has no intention of ever letting them return, even if that means putting aside peace with Syria forever. Instead, Israel today has entrenched more than 20,000 of its own settlers in the Golan. Last year, the right-wing minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett announced a five-year goal of spending hundreds of millions of shekels to settle 100,000 more Israelis on the mountain.
This April, Prime Minister Netanyahu hosted a special cabinet meeting on the Heights, calling it "an integral part of the state of Israel in the new era." He vowed that the region "will remain in the hands of Israel forever" rather than returning to "Syrian occupation."
As usual, the UN Security Council rejected the Israeli claims, to no practical effect.
Israeli leaders acknowledge that a major reason they will never hand back the Golan Heights is economic: it provides precious fresh water to Israel.
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs states flatly, "The region's strategic importance derives from its location, overlooking the Israeli Galilee region, and from the fact that it supplies Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) -- a major source of water for Israel -- with one third of its water."
But there is another economic motive driving Israeli policy, as the recently arrested Druze journalist had reported: the smell of oil.
Last fall, an Israeli geologist working for the American company Genie Oil and Gas reported evidence of a huge oil find in the Golan Heights -- with the potential to supply billions of gallons of crude, enough to make Israel a net oil exporter. Rejecting complaints by environmental groups, Israeli authorities granted the company a two-year extension of its right to carry out test drilling on 150-square-miles of occupied Syrian land.
Genie Oil and the Israel Lobby
Genie Oil is no ordinary drilling company. Its American CEO, Howard Jonas, is a major campaign donor to Netanyahu. The chairman of its Israeli subsidiary, Brig. Gen. Efraim Eitam, is a former leader of the National Religious Party who called for expelling Palestinians from the occupied territories and murdering their leaders.
He said of the Palestinian people, "These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces."
The company's shareholders include at least two billionaire supporters of Israel: multinational media magnate Rupert Murdoch and retired investment banker Lord Jacob Rothschild (whose family foundation donated the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings to Israel).
Murdoch and Rothschild also sit on Genie Oil's well-connected "strategic advisory board." Its chair, Michael Steinhardt, is a prominent Wall Street hedge fund manager and a major financial backer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish, neoconservative think tank noted for its fear-mongering against Palestinian leaders as well as Syria and Iran.
Other advisory board members include former Vice President Richard Cheney; James Woolsey, former CIA Director and chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Leadership Council who has called for tougher US military intervention against Syria; former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who sponsored the US-Israel Energy Cooperation bill; former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson; and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
Potential for Regional Conflict
Genie's drilling in the Golan is part of an energy boom that is transforming the outlook for Israel's economy. Israel has raised "consternation" in Jordan by claiming a major oil reservoir near the Dead Sea, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Israel has also discovered enormous reserves of natural gas off the coast of Israel and Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea, and is reportedly close to signing a huge gas export agreement with Turkey. The latter deal could undercut long-term plans by Iran and Syria to export gas to Europe.
A report by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, released in December 2014, noted that recent energy discoveries put Israel "ahead of all East Mediterranean countries in terms of gas reserves and resource prospectivity."
It warned, however, that conflicts over disputed ownership of oil and gas fields could lead to a regional war between Israel, Lebanon, Syria and other countries. It cited Israel's drilling in the Golan Heights, in particular, as creating the "potential for another armed conflict between the two parties should substantial hydrocarbon resources be discovered."
The report added ominously, "US security and military support for its main allies in the case of an eruption of natural resource conflict in the East Mediterranean may prove essential in managing possible future conflict."
Owing to Israel's expulsion of most Golan residents in 1967, that occupied land rarely makes the news. Ever since the Six Day War, however, Israel's conquest mentality has subverted peace negotiations with Syria. If Israel now succeeds in tapping commercial oil reserves underneath the Golan, its illegal occupation may once again fan the flames of regional conflict.
If the United States does help "manage" that conflict by supporting its ally, no one should be surprised — but it will represent a terrible dereliction of America's duty to uphold international law and to seek a just and peaceful solution in the Middle East.
Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).
Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were "Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions"; "Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran"; "Saudi Cash Wins France's Favor"; "The Saudis' Hurt Feelings"; "Saudi Arabia's Nuclear Bluster"; "The US Hand in the Syrian Mess"; and "Hidden Origins of Syria's Civil War."
US Army Report Calls for 'Military Support' of Israeli Energy Grab
Nafeez Ahmed / Middle East Eye
(January 1, 2015) -- A new report by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute emphasises the need for "US security and military support" to its key allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Israel, over access to recent vast discoveries of regional oil and gas.
The Army study, released earlier in December 2014, concludes that extensive US military involvement "may prove essential in managing possible future conflict" in case of "an eruption of natural resource conflict in the East Mediterranean," due to huge gas discoveries in recent years.
Visible US engagement is also necessary to ward off the regional encroachment of "emerging powers and potential new peace brokers such as Russia - which already entertains a strong interest in East Mediterranean gas developments - and notably China."
Fossil Fuel Bonanza in the Levant
Since 2000, the Levant basin - an area encompassing the offshore territories of Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon - has been estimated to hold as much as 1.7 billion barrels of oil and up to 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. As much of the region's potential resources remain undiscovered, geologists believe this could be just a third of the total quantities of fossil fuels in the Levant.
The new US Army report argues that these hydrocarbon discoveries are of "tremendous economic and geostrategic significance," not just for its allies, but for the United States itself. Israel especially stands to "gain considerably from their newly discovered gas wealth" in terms of cost-effective energy for domestic consumption and revenues from gas exports.
But while the discoveries offer the prospect for closer regional cooperation, they also raise "the potential for conflict over these valuable resources." The potential for resource conflicts over oil and gas relates directly to intractable border conflicts between Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the unresolved Cypriot question between Greece and Turkey. US interests are to minimise the risk of conflict between its core allies, while maximising their capacity to exploit these resources.
"Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey are key strategic US allies," the report says. "Neighbouring Egypt, Syria and Lebanon play important roles from the European and US perspective, both as direct neighbours to Israel and the Palestinian Territories as well as because of their strategically important location as the geographic interconnection between Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East."
The new US Army report is authored by Mohammed al-Katiri and Laura al-Katiri. Mohammed al-Katiri was previously research director at the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Advanced Research and Assessment Group (ARAG), but now heads up two private intelligence consultancies, MENA Insight and the Conflict Studies Research Centre (CSRC), both of which provide services to government and commercial sectors, including the oil and gas industry.
The Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) which published the report, calls itself an Army "think factory" for "commanders and civilian leaders." SSI uses independent analysis to help "develop policy recommendations" for the US Army on national security and to "influence policy debate" across the military.
Advancing Israel's Energy Empire
The SSI report on the risk of Middle East resource conflicts notes that Israel's massive offshore gas discoveries "have yet to translate into proven gas reserves," but that it's total of 9.48 tcf of proven and 30 tcf estimated reserves, positions Israel "ahead of all East Mediterranean countries in terms of gas reserves and resource prospectivity."
The Army report also reveals that Syria could hold significant offshore oil and gas potential. In 2007, before the outbreak of hostilities, President Bashar al-Assad launched a first bidding round to secure investment into new exploration efforts, and another in 2012 that was cancelled due to deteriorating security conditions.
"Once the Syria conflict is resolved, prospects for Syrian offshore production -- provided commercial resources are found -- are high," observes the report. Potential oil and gas resources can be developed "relatively smoothly once the political situation allows for any new exploration efforts in its offshore territories."
The report also mentions significant gas finds in the offshore territories of Lebanon and Palestine, including the Gaza Marine, which holds over 1 tcf -- production of which has been "obstruction by Israel over concerns regarding the flow of revenues to Palestinian stakeholders." But in addition to the Gaza Marine, "Palestinian offshore territories near Gaza are believed to hold substantial hydrocarbon potential," whose total quantities are still unknown because a lack of exploration there:
"Both Israel and Cyprus are key US allies and pillars of US foreign policy in the region: Israel, with its long history of close political ties with the United States, historically has stood at the heart of American efforts to secure regional peace; while Cyprus forms the most eastern part of Europe and is an important strategic location for both US and British military interests."
The region faces four main potential arcs of conflict. Firstly, in Israel-Palestine, the US Army study warns that "the presence of valuable natural resources in disputed territory may further feed the conflict."
Secondly, rival claims between Israel and Lebanon over maritime boundaries could "complicate" the development of regional offshore hydrocarbon resources and result in military confrontation.
Thirdly, that risk has, in turn, delayed efforts to define Cypriot-Israeli and Cypriot-Lebanese exclusive economic maritime zones.
Fourthly, in 2013 Israel granted oil exploration licenses in the Syrian-claimed Golan Heights, spelling "potential for another armed conflict between the two parties should substantial hydrocarbon resources be discovered."
According to a report to the UN Security Council in early December, Israel has been in regular contact with Syrian rebels, including Islamic State fighters, raising the question of Israel's role in supporting anti-Assad extremists to cement its control of Golan's potential fossil fuel resources.
The US Army study highlights a real risk that tensions across these flashpoints could escalate into a wider regional conflict:
"In the case of an armed conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the security of the wider Levant region could once again be at stake, with a possible escalation of the conflict into neighbouring Syria and the Palestinian Territories, as well as (with historical precedents) Jordan and Egypt.
"In combination, the pre-existing political problems in all of these countries -- Syria destabilizing into de facto civil war, Egypt in the midst of political instability, the Palestinians and Lebanese lacking stable political cores -- the potential for a new, escalating regional war is a threatening scenario indeed."
War for Peace (for Gas)
To stave off this disturbing prospect, the US report recommends that Israel and other Levant gas hubs like Lebanon and Cyprus play a key role in exporting Eastern Mediterranean gas to their Arab neighbours, such as Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, given that Middle East demand for gas is projected to rise dramatically in coming decades.
Further, the report highlights the possibility of Israel piping gas to Turkey, where it can be exported to European markets, making Turkey a regional gas transhipment hub. This would allow both Turkey and Europe to wean off their Russian gas dependence, and integrate instead into a "peaceful" US-Israeli dominated regional energy architecture.
As has been confirmed by Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair's energy advisor, Ariel Ezrahi, Gaza's offshore gas resources are seen as a potential bridge to overcome popular Arab public opposition to gas deals with Israel.
"Israeli as well as Palestinian offshore hydrocarbon resources could play a significant role in facilitating mutual trust and the willingness to cooperate," the US Army study suggests, "including between Israel and a few of its other Arab neighbours, Jordan and Egypt."
But ultimately this architecture cannot be installed without extensive US intervention of some kind. "US diplomatic and military support has a pivotal role to play in the East Mediterranean's complex geopolitical landscape, and its importance will only grow as the value of the natural resources at stake increases," concludes the Army report:
"US security and military support for its main allies in the case of an eruption of natural resource conflict in the East Mediterranean may prove essential in managing possible future conflict."
Diplomatically, the US could play a significant role in mediating between the various parties to facilitate successful oil and gas development projects across the East Mediterranean, not just for "Israel's sake," but also to shore-up allies like Jordan and Egypt with "low-cost Israeli gas," contributing to regional economic and thus political stability:
"US support -- diplomatic and, where necessary, military -- can form a potentially powerful element in the safeguarding of these long-term economic benefits, at little cost in relative terms."
If regional tensions escalate though, the report warns that "the United States also holds an important military position that could have an impact in securing the East Mediterranean," including "military training and equipment support" to defend Cyprus and Israel from attacks on "their energy infrastructure and gas developments."
This Orwellian document thus reveals that in the name of maintaining regional peace, a new Great Game is at play. To counter Russian and Chinese influence while cementing influence over its Arab allies, US military strategists are contemplating the threat of war to redraw the Middle East's energy architecture around Israel.
Nafeez Ahmed PhD, is an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the 'crisis of civilization.' He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts.
He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner's Inquest.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.