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Trump & Woolsey: Was There a Bait-and-Switch?

For voters hoping to ease global tensions and diminish the threat of World War III, Donald Trump seemed to be saying some sensible things on the campaign trail. He questioned the role of NATO, and the use of “regime change” by the U.S. against other nations. He asked why the U.S. and Russia couldn’t be partners rather than belligerents. He even questioned why the U.S. must always play the role of the world’s policeman and suggested that the U.S. should turn its attention to solving its own domestic problems.

Such campaign rhetoric was unusual and likely struck a chord with some war-weary listeners.

But in early September 2016, in a move that should have received far more attention than it did, Trump appointed former CIA director James Woolsey as his senior advisor on national security issues. Woolsey – a key member of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) – had been a strong advocate for invading Iraq in 2003 and for waging war throughout the Middle East.
In its commentary about Trump’s appointment of Woolsey, The Intercept noted, “Woolsey’s selection either clashes with Trump’s noninterventionist rhetoric – or represents a pivot towards a more muscular, neoconservative approach to resolving international conflicts.” [1]

“More Muscular Approach”

The day after Trump’s election, Woolsey was interviewed by the CBC and asked about U.S. national security priorities. Woolsey responded that it was necessary “to get straight who our friends and adversaries are.” He asserted that “Israel is our friend,” while he called Iran “the world’s leading terrorist state” and insisted that the nuclear agreement with Iran “is so bad it needs to go.” [2] Tehran reached a deal with world powers (including the U.S.) on its nuclear program in July 2015. The Israel lobby has reportedly been trying to undermine the agreement ever since by linking Iran with ISIS terrorism. [3]

Woolsey also called Russia and North Korea “problem states,” and when asked if a new relationship with Russia could be possible under Trump as president, he answered that it “has to be based on Russian performances, not Russian promises,” adding that “Russia’s got to stop conquering its neighbours, like Ukraine.” [4]

Such propagandist bilge completely inverts reality, but the CBC interviewer did not challenge any of Woolsey’s statements, and identified him only as a former director of the CIA.
There is much more that should be said about Woolsey. As The Intercept noted: “Woolsey has also put himself in a position to profit from the wars he has promoted. He has served as vice president of Pentagon contracting giant Booz Allen, and as chairman of Paladin Capital Group, a private equity fund that invests in national security and cybersecurity. He chairs the leadership council at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a hawkish national security nonprofit, and is venture partner with Lux Capital Management, which invests in emerging technologies like drones, satellite imaging, and artificial intelligence.” [5]
But in the immediate geopolitical situation, James Woolsey’s other corporate involvement is far more significant.

Genie Energy Ltd.

In September 2015, James Woolsey was appointed to the strategic advisory board of Genie Energy Ltd., a U.S. oil and gas firm that has exploration rights in the Golan Heights – the long contested area of Syria that is now known to be rich in both oil shale and fresh water.

Israel seized parts of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. Syria tried to retake the area during the 1973 Yon Kippur War, before Israel annexed the region in 1981 by imposing Israeli laws, jurisdiction and administration over the territory and its inhabitants. In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which declared that Israel must withdraw from all lands occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights. Ever since, the international community has considered the Golan to be occupied territory and Israeli settlements there to be illegal.
In late 2010, media mogul Rupert Murdoch teamed up with Lord Jacob Rothschild to buy an $11 million stake in Genie Energy. Lord Rothschild is chairman of RIT (Rothschild Investment Trust) Capital Partners, a $3.4 billion investment trust fund.

Subsequently, Genie Energy’s strategic advisory board has grown to include quite a roster of well-known names. As Dr. Nafeez Ahmed wrote, joining Murdoch and Rothschild on the board are “Larry Summers, former Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council; ex-CIA director James Woolsey, a former Vice-President of NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, advisory board member of anti-Muslim hate group the Gatestone Institute, international patron to the Henry Jackson Society; Dick Cheney, former Vice-President under George W. Bush; and Bill Richardson, former Secretary of Energy under Clinton, Governor of New Mexico and Obama nominee for Secretary of Commerce.” [6] The parent company is owned by American millionaire Howard Jonas.

Breaking Up Syria

Genie Energy Ltd. has been involved in the Golan for almost a decade. According to Media Matters, in April 2011 Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Business Network promoted Genie Energy’ oil project in the Golan three times, without disclosing Murdoch’s involvement in the venture. [7] Fox coverage included interviews with a columnist from the Wall Street Journal (also owned by Murdoch). In that same year of 2011, civil strife began unravelling Syria into an all-out war that has raged ever since.

Despite the situation (or because of it, some have argued), in 2013 Genie Energy Ltd. received permits from the Israeli government to begin drilling for oil in the Golan, “despite it still [being] internationally recognized as part of Syria. Genie Energy International’s President is retired Israeli General [Efraim] Eitam, a former Likud Housing Minister and MP who has repeatedly called for Israel to ‘cleanse’ the occupied territories of all Arabs…” [8] Antiwar.com noted that the 2013 permit gives Genie Energy “an exclusive license for nearly 400 square kilometers of Syrian territory.” [9]
By October 2015, Genie Energy Ltd.’s chief geologist was telling Israel’s Channel 2 TV that the company had found a major oil reservoir in the Golan. Fox News reported the discovery as “potentially game-changing” and included Rupert Murdoch’s name in the list of the company’s “notable investors.” [10]

At the time of that 2015 discovery, political analyst F. William Engdahl noted, “The geopolitical stakes in the Middle East have just gotten higher by an order of magnitude. Take a little known Newark, New Jersey oil company, the contested Golan Heights between Syria and Israel, add a reported major oil discovery there just as Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria goes into high gear, shake vigorously and we have a potential detonator for World War III.” [11]

Within weeks of the oil discovery, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House, hinting that President Obama should recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, supposedly to create “stability” in the region. But a White House official told Haaretz Daily, “I think that it was clear that the U.S. is not going to change its position about the future of the Golan…We [have] always said it has to be negotiated in line with [UN Security Council resolutions] 242 and 338. This has been and remains our position and it will not change.” [12]

“Fury in Jerusalem”

Just six months after Netanyahu’s White House visit, the Times of Israel was reporting (April 11, 2016) “fury in Jerusalem.” According to the account, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly fuming over indications that plans for a negotiated settlement for Syria, being worked on with the support of the U.S., Russia and other major world powers, could specify that the entire Golan Heights, including the western two-thirds of the strategic ridge captured by Israel in 1965, is Syrian land.” [13]

Another source noted, “…Israel’s top political leaders and military commanders were stunned and shocked last weekend when they found out that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to support the return of the Golan to Syria. The two presidents gave their top diplomats, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the green light to include such a clause in a proposal being drafted at the Geneva conference on ending the Syrian civil war…DEBKAfile’s sources report that just like the other diplomatic or military steps initiated by Obama and Putin in Syria, such as those for Assad’s eventual removal from power, the two powers see a resolution of the Golan issue as a gradual process that may take a long time, perhaps even years. But as far as they are concerned, Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan at the end of that process.” [14]

Only hours later, Netanyahu defiantly held his weekly Cabinet meeting in the Golan, using the photo-op to declare, “The Golan will always remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.” He added, “The time has come after 50 years for the international community to acknowledge that the Golan Heights will permanently remain under Israeli sovereignty.” [15]
This aspect of the war in Syria has largely been ignored by the corporate media, but it continues to be a major factor, especially in negotiating a settlement.

On Oct 5, nsnbc international reported that Syria’s UN Ambassador, Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari told the UN General Assembly “that Israel’s continued occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and its looting of the natural resources in the Golan and occupied Palestinian lands, as well as Israel’s direct role in escalating crisis in Syria through supporting terrorists in the disengagement zone in Golan undermine the agreement of disengagement and seriously pose a threat to stability and security in the region.” [16]

The report added that plans to extract “substantial hydrocarbon resources” from the Golan involve “not only Israeli actors but the U.S.-based Genie Energy, with prominent board members like former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, among many others.” [17] Those many others include James Woolsey, now senior advisor on national security issues to president-elect Donald Trump.

Earlier this year, political analyst Anthony Bellchambers issued an unusual warning about the U.S. presidential election. He wrote: “The Republican Party has long endorsed Likud Zionism with its economic blockades and military occupations and has accepted the influence of Netanyahu and the Israel lobby over Congress. However, what would that mean, in reality, in the event of a Trump presidency? It would almost certainly embolden Israel to unilaterally annex the occupied Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Syrian Golan Heights in gross violation of international law and in contempt of the United Nations…It would increase the likelihood of a global war between the US and Russia, and their respective allies…” [18]

Is that where Trump’s presidency (and the Republican sweep of Congress) is leading? Did voters yearning for peace get “played”? Stay tuned.

[1] Alex Emmons and Naomi LeChance, “Donald Trump, After Blasting Iraq War, Picks Top Iraq Hawk James Woolsey as National Security Adviser,” The Intercept, September 12, 2016.

[2] “As It Happens,” CBC Radio, November 9, 2016.

[3] Philip Weiss, “Congress Seeks to undermine Iran Deal by Linking Iran with ISIS,” Mondoweiss and Global Research, December 27, 2015.

[4] “As It Happens,” op. cit.

[5] Emmons and LeChance, op. cit.

[6] Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, “Western Firms Plan To Cash In On Syria’s Oil and Gas ‘Frontier’,” Mintpressnews.com, December 1, 2015.

[7] Sarah Pavlus, “Shale Game: Why Won’t Fox Disclose Murdoch’s Oil Interests?” Media Matters, July 15, 2011.

[8] Jason Ditz, “Israel Okays Cheney-Murdoch Firm to Drill in Occupied Golan,” Antiwar.com, February 21, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Paul Alster, “Potentially game-changing oil reserves discovered in Israel,” Fox News, October 8, 2015.

[11] F. William Engdahl, “Genies and Genocide: Syria, Israel, Russia and Much Oil,” New Eastern Outlook, October 26, 2015.

[12] Barak Ravid, “White House Official: U.S. Won’t Recognize Israeli Sovereignty in Golan,” Haaretz.com, November 12, 2015.

[13] Times of Israel Staff, “Peace deal draft defining Golan as Syrian triggers fury in Jerusalem,” The Times of Israel, April 11, 2016.

[14] “Netanyahu to battle Obama, Putin over the Golan,” DEBKAfile, April 16, 2016.

[15] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu: It’s Time the World Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights,” Haaretz.com, April 17, 2016.

[16] “Syria blasts Israel over continued Occupation of the Golan Heights,” nsnbc international, October 5, 2016.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Anthony Bellchambers, “A Republican Win Could Lead to a Likud Dominated Congress,” Global Research, March 2, 2016.