Does the Middle East care about Trump's Golan announcement?

One reason that the Golan issue does not echo in the Middle East is because the Syrian regime is not well-liked.

By
March 21, 2019 23:33
3 minute read.
UN peacekeepers

U.N. peacekeepers patrol Mount Bental, an observation post in the Golan Heights near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria October 23, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

 
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US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights appears to have been initially greeted with more anger in Washington than in the capitals of the Middle East. That is because the region is recovering from years of conflict and instability, and Trump’s decision regarding the Golan is likely seen within the context of the rest of his unilateral action, from leaving the Iran Deal to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

After 52 years of Israeli rule on the Golan – more than twice as long as the independent Syrian government controlled the heights – Israeli rule is largely understood as a fact of life, even as regimes pay lip service to international legal concepts that would see the Golan returned to the Syrian regime.

One reason that the Golan issue does not echo in the Middle East is because the Syrian regime is not well-liked. Bashar Assad is a close ally of Hezbollah, Iran and pro-Iranian sections of Iraq. But even sites connected to this nexus of allies don’t seem to see the Golan announcement as some major new change in the region.

Al-Manar, which is linked to Hezbollah, didn’t have a tweet on it. Like most regional media, they were more focused on the tragic ferry disaster in Mosul in which 60 people were killed on Thursday. Al-Mayadeen, which supports the Syrian regime, quotes Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as warning of instability following the Trump announcement. Surprisingly, Iran’s Tasnim and other media seemed disinterested in the announcement, with Tasnim headlining a story about rain on the Persian new year and terrorist threats in Pakistan.

Al-Ghad in Jordan mentioned the Golan announcement, but placed it alongside stories about sports and corruption. Not exactly earth-shattering coverage. Kuwait’s Al-Jarida didn’t even cover the announcement on its main homepage, preferring instead stories about the F-35 not being delivered to Turkey and details of oil prices. An article about how much the US values Kuwait’s alliance was top of the page.

The National in the UAE mentioned the decision, but also didn’t make it a major story. Al-Arabiya in Saudi Arabia considered US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments about Iran more important. Turkey’s Anadolu, which is close to the government and critical of Israel and Trump, unsurprisingly highlighted the decision.


While the announcement is seen in the US and among critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an election boost, that doesn’t seem to be a major interpretation in the Middle East. Insofar as commentators care, they have reported the decision without too much analysis. For countries that are close allies of the US, this may relate to the fact that media tends to be tightly controlled and they don’t want to ruffle the Trump administration’s feathers.

For the pro-Iranian media networks, the Golan decision may not be a major avenue to critique the administration because there are many other issues they want to highlight. For instance, Iran is busy trying to pressure the US to leave Iraq, and the Syrian regime wants the US to leave eastern Syria. The Golan is not foremost on its mind. Hezbollah is concerned about Pompeo’s upcoming visit and the fact that he is trying to pressure Hezbollah. Can the terrorist group deal with the Golan issue while it has to play ball in its own court?

Usually, decisions like the Golan might be used to deflect from the failures of regimes at home by encouraging anti-Israel rallies on Friday after prayers. But the region has changed greatly in the last decade, and Israel is not the center of every person’s concerns – local struggles and conflicts are. That includes protests in Sudan and Algeria; also mourning in Mosul and Iraq for the ferry victims. In eastern Syria they are celebrating Newroz as the last battle against ISIS in Baghuz ends. In Turkey, the people are preparing for municipal elections.

Whether the Golan decision may spark controversies in the days after its announcement remains to be seen. But given the many other issues affecting the Middle East – and coming after a long list of other major Trump decisions on Israel – it is not being seen as a groundbreaking change.

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