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Israel, Gaza, and the Struggle for Oil


Published : 12 Dec 2023 08:18 PM
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It was the sign that got to me. I was standing with protesters outside the Burlington (VT) City Hall at a rally organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. To my left I spotted a man, grim-faced and silent, holding aloft a piece of cardboard with these words scratched in black:

“Jews against Genocide.” “So it has finally come to this,” I said to myself.

Why, I wondered, would Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Biden administration risk their standing in the world and ignore calls for a ceasefire? Did they have an unspoken agenda?

As a chronicler of the endless post-9/11 wars in the Middle East, I concluded that the end game was likely connected to oil and natural gas, discovered off the coast of Gaza, Israel and Lebanon in 2000 and 2010 and estimated to be worth $500 billion. The discovery promised to fuel massive development schemes involving the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Also at stake was the transformation of the eastern Mediterranean into a heavily militarized energy corridor that could supply Europe with its energy needs as the war in Ukraine dragged on.

Here was the tinderbox waiting to explode that I had predicted in 2022. Now it was exploding before our very eyes. And at what cost in human lives?

Eastern Mediterranean, Oil and Gas Reserves

Reflections on the Israeli War on Gaza

The year 1975 was my last in beautiful, cosmopolitan Beirut, Lebanon, before it descended into 15 years of brutal civil war, killing 100,000 people.

As a journalist for the Beirut Daily Star, I began reporting on the escalating tensions among the ruling Maronite Christians, Shiite Muslims — located primarily in southern Lebanon not far from the border with Israel — and the Palestinians caught in between. The presence of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon was not appreciated by Lebanon’s Maronite Christian ruling elite.

The PLO had been forced out of Jordan by King Hussein during what became known as Black September (1970). In that conflict Arafat’s forces fought to prevent Jordanians from regaining control of the once-Jordanian-controlled West Bank, after Israeli forces had pulled out following the Six Day War of 1967. Defeated by King Hussein’s forces, Palestinian refugees poured into Lebanon. In their desperation to be heard by the international community, Palestinian militants began hijacking planes in 1968 to express their grievances against Israeli occupation.

Those three years of reporting in the Middle East gave me a rare lesson in how oil was turning desert sheikhdoms into modern city states, and Beirut into a refuge for the rich — but also a refuge for displaced Palestinians, which ultimately would not be tolerated.

From the rooftop of my apartment I witnessed French Mirage jets supplied to the Maronites roaring overhead to drop bombs on a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut. Days later, I spent an afternoon on my belly, hiding under a desk as bullets flew around a Christian school where I had taken refuge during a sudden outbreak of fighting.

I began writing about parents dodging bullets to rescue their children. I did not know who was fighting whom, and as dusk descended on the school, I happily accepted a parent’s offer to rush me to safety. As we dashed to his car, his hand tightened on mine as we narrowly escaped a sniper’s bullet. He was a Palestinian Christian, and he likely saved my life.

Shortly afterwards, I returned to the States, not keen on covering a war that made no sense to me. It would take another seven years before I would figure out that this ongoing “civil war” was really about ridding Lebanon of radicalized Palestinians.

In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and coordinated with right-wing Lebanese Phalangist forces to slaughter hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Arafat and his PLO got the message. They departed Lebanon for exile in Tunisia that year, and the Palestinian resistance, once secular and leftist, gave way to the rise of the Islamist Hezbollah fighters who resisted future Israeli incursions into Shiite-dominated southern Lebanon, and ended up earning the respect of Lebanon’s large Shiite population.

Public opinion in the US and the world began to shift against Israel in the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, but the American media and members of Congress equated criticism of Israel with antisemitism and invariably reminded the world of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Censorship of anyone who showed sympathy for the Palestinians was pervasive, so I took a hiatus from writing about the Middle East during this time, and ended up joining my future husband, author and investigative journalist Gerard Colby, in investigating the genocide of Amazonian Indians during the 1960s and ’70s. The result of our 18-year investigation was Thy Will be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil(HarperCollins, 1994). That work became my primer for understanding oil and power at the highest level.

Death of a Master Spy — and Oil

By the mid-1990s, I was drawn back to writing about the Middle East, which was always in my heart, having been born in Beirut and having attended high school there — which was the beginning of my political awakening. But this time I was on a personal mission. I decided to investigate the circumstances behind the plane crash that killed my father. I was six weeks old at the time. Daniel Dennett had just completed a top secret mission to Saudi Arabia in March 1947.

As head of counterintelligence for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and its successor, the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), his assignment was to determine the route of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (aka Tapline) and whether it would terminate in Haifa, Palestine, soon to be Israel, or nearby Lebanon.

His last report stated that US oil executives were upset with anti-Zionist Syria, which was refusing to let the pipeline cross Syrian territory.

This was remedied in 1949, when the CIA removed Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri al-Quwatli, and replaced him with a Lebanese army officer who gave the green light to the pipeline crossing over Syria’s Golan Heights and terminating near the southern Lebanese port of Sidon.

Saudi oil, and the Trans-Arabian Pipeline which carried it to the Mediterranean Sea, was important to American ambitions in the Middle East. The New York Times, on March 2, 1947, carried a full page story about it entitled: “Pipeline for US Adds to Middle East Issues: Oil Concession Raises Questions Involving the Position of Russia.”

The article, written by President Harry S. Truman’s future son-in-law, Clifton Daniel, was a treatise on the “Great Game for Oil.” “Protection of that investment,” Daniel wrote, “and the military and economic security that it represents, inevitably will become one of the prime objectives of American foreign policy in this area, which already has become a pivot of world politics and one of the main focal points of rivalry between East and West.”


Charlotte Dennett is an investigative journalist. Her most recent book, now out in paperback, is Follow the Pipelines: Uncovering the Mystery of a Lost Spy and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil.

Source: CounterPunch