In a joint press conference with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that the Golan Heights “is tremendously important for our security … we will never leave the Golan Heights … it is important that all countries recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
It was a rare moment in which Netanyahu publicly asked a U.S. administration official to officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Dennis Ross, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former adviser to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, told JNS that Netanyahu’s request “might be understandable given the context of Bolton’s trip but is unlikely to draw a favorable response from the administration in advance of presenting the president’s peace plan. The White House is seeking Arab support for the plan and probably not looking to take steps that might make it harder for Arab states to be responsive.”
Ross placed the issue of recognition and Bolton’s visit in a larger context. He told JNS that Bolton’s trip is about reassuring Israel about the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria.
“I hope the Iranian emplacement of missiles on Syrian bases is being raised by the prime minister with an eye to coordinating an approach on this issue at least with the Russians,” he said. “The Russians want the U.S. out of Syria, and the question is whether it is possible to get the Russians to pressure [Syrian President Bashar] Assad not to permit Iranian missiles on Syrian bases prior to our withdrawal.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Security Cabinet members get a tour with the North Front Command in the Golan Heights, on Feb. 6, 2018. Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War after Syria and other Arab nations attacked the Jewish state. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Since then, the United States and the broader international community have refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the region.
But there has been some movement in Israel’s direction. In November, the United States opposed for the first time the annual U.N. resolution calling on Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared, “The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in Jordan as part of a larger Middle East tour to allay fears that America is abandoning the Middle East, as well as to stress that the central threats to the region are Iran and ISIS.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, told Pompeo on Tuesday: “International law regarding the Golan Heights is clear. Israel must withdraw from the region.”
How much political capital should go into it?
Netanyahu isn’t alone in his belief that the United States should finally recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
Last May, the House of Representatives debated a similar resolution. Then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution asking Congress to recognize the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel. That measure was never adopted.
And this week, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas issued a joint statement calling on the administration to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. According to a statement on Cruz’s website, “In the last Congress Sens. Cruz and Cotton introduced S.Res.732, a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
The resolution Cotton and Cruz introduced in mid-December of last year urged the Senate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The resolution stated that the United States would support Israel’s right to defend itself, that it is in the United States’ national security interest to ensure Israel’s security, and that Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would ensure that the Assad regime “faces diplomatic and geopolitical consequences for the killing of civilians, the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis and the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
This week’s statement went on to affirm that “responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attacks. To support Israel’s right to self-defense, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security has a different approach. He told JNS that “the Americans might [recognize Israeli sovereignty] as they see Syria divided among Assad, the Russians, Turkey and Iran.”
“I am not sure we should spend much political capital on this issue,” he added. “After all, the Golan is in our hands since ’67, more years than the Syrians ruled the area. Who can change this strategically important fact?
“Any American recognition will not have the same resonance as moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” acknowledged Inbar. “What we should do is double the Jewish population in the Golan. What counts most is facts on the ground and not political declarations.”