US Formally Recognizes Israeli Control over Golan, Citing Security Concerns

PM Netanyahu and President Trump. Photo courtesy of Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

United States President Donald Trump made history in favor of Israel again on Monday, becoming the first American president to officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights region that border Syria. The territory, captured by Israel in 1967 while battling Syrian aggression, is a critical high ground for defense, and this was a key reason for the Trump’s decision.

Against the backdrop of Iranian buildup in Syria, ongoing threats from the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon and simmering Syrian antagonism against Israel, Trump signed a presidential declaration on Monday proclaiming that “the United States recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”

The declaration, posted to the White House website, noted that Israel “took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats” and listed security concerns facing Israel today posed by Iran and terror groups such as Hezbollah. Those concerns were shared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the US for the Trump signing. “Your recognition is a two-fold act of historic justice,” Netanyahu told Trump in comments released by his office. “Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years.”

A fact sheet released to the White House website summarized the motivation behind the move: “Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is critical to the security of Israel and the stability of the entire Middle East.” Along those lines, the presidential declaration noted that “any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats.”

History highlights the importance of the territory. “From 1948 to 1967, Syria rained deadly fire from the Golan Heights on Israel’s citizens below. A generation of Israeli children lived in constant danger,” said Netanyahu on Monday. “And then, in two glorious days in June 1967, the brave soldiers of Israel scaled those daunting heights and liberated the Golan.”

Netanyahu noted that it took decades to “translate our military victory into a diplomatic victory,” and Trump said that delay was too long.

“It’s something that I’ve been hearing about for many years, from many people. I’ve been studying for years,” said Trump in comments with Netanyahu posted to the White House website. “And this should have been done, I would say, numerous Presidents ago. But for some reason, they didn’t do it, and I’m very honored to have done it.”

The timing is critical for both Israel and for Trump. For Israel, Iran’s activities in Syria are a pressing concern that has resulted in many Israeli military strikes in Syria to prevent their enemies from growing the threat there.

For Trump, the diplomatic boost to Israel comes as the Americans are leaving Syria militarily and thereby removing a forceful counter to Russian and Iranian influence there. It also comes at a time when voices of support for sovereignty of the Golan on behalf of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad will be stifled by the war crimes committed by that regime in Syria’s civil war.

In comments given to reporters on Monday and published by the State Department, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, Ambassador James Jeffrey, didn’t expect the Golan move would harm his mandate of addressing the conflict in Syria and the threat posed by ISIS.

“The Assad regime is considered a pariah by almost all of the countries in the Middle East. It will continue to be considered a pariah. I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of problems with this,” he said on Monday.

As for Israel, past wars with Syria in 1967 and 1973 that involved the Golan were recalled by Israel in thinking about the dangers today. “Your proclamation comes at a time when the Golan is more important than ever for our security, when Iran is trying to establish bases in Syria to strike at Israel. From across the border in Syria, Iran has launched drones into our airspace, missiles into our territory,” Netanyahu told Trump.

“Mr. President, just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

Netanyahu was soaring in his thanks to Trump for making the move, comparing him to the Persian ruler who issued the order to rebuild the Temple and historic leaders who called for Jews to have a homeland.

“Over the years, Israel has been blessed to have many friends who sat in the Oval Office, but Israel has never had a better friend than you. You show this time and again,” said Netanyahu. “…In the long sweep of Jewish history, there have been a handful of proclamations by non-Jewish leaders on behalf of our people and our land: Cyrus the Great, the great Persian king; Lord Balfour; President Harry S. Truman; and President Donald J. Trump.

“You, Mr. President, you’ve done it not once, but twice: with your bold proclamation on Jerusalem and with your bold proclamation today on the Golan.”

Netanyahu presented the White House staff with wine from the Golan Heights Winery, but he believes the bond between Israel and the Americans over the Golan goes much deeper than a shared drink.

Said Netanyahu, “Mr. President, we have a saying in Israel. I’ll say it in Hebrew. It says HaAm im haGolan. That means the people are with the Golan. But thanks to you, we now know that there are two peoples who stand with the Golan, the people of Israel and the people of America.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, March 25, 2019)




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