Can the United States Recognize the Golan Heights as Part of Israel?

According to the Israeli minister of intelligence, the likelihood of this happening is high.

First Jerusalem, and then Golan. According to some unconfirmed reports, the United States may recognize the sovereignty of the Israeli state over the Golan Heights, which were occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981. Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz disclosed this development in an interview with Reuters last week. The likelihood of this happening, he says, is high. The United States could make a decision in the foreseeable future, “in a few more months or less,” writes Kersten Knipp in Deutsche Welle.

The future of the occupied Golan Heights was indeed discussed in Congress. According to the Israeli radio station Arutz Sheva, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis said in mid-May that the Golan Heights were an “inseparable and integral part” of Israel, and therefore it was crucial for Israel to retain this strategically important area situated to the north of the Sea of Galilee.

“Given the civil war in Syria and the expansion of Iranian influence in Syria, the United States should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the Republican congressman told Arutz Sheva.

Such a step by the United States would mean a radical change in Washington’s current position on this issue. Until now, the Americans have not recognized the Golan Heights as an integral part of Israel. The German government takes the same stand. “It’s a basic principle of international law and the U.N. charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that,” the spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said in 2016.

Back in 1981, the U.N. Security Council introduced a resolution that declared the Israeli annexation of part of the Golan Heights illegal under international law.

Israel took control of part of the Golan Heights during the Six Day War of 1967, which led to an escalation of tensions between Israel and its neighbors. In addition, there had been previous disputes between Israel and Jordan over the use of water from the Jordan River, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded in 1959, began to attack Israel with arms from neighboring Jordan, Syria and the Gaza Strip.

In the spring of 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser invaded the Sinai Peninsula and blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea. It was not long before Israel responded. It attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and within few days, it occupied the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank of the Jordan River, along with East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Even during the military actions, Israel began to banish the Arabs living in the Golan Heights.

The Israeli writer, Amos Oz, who was involved in the fighting as a soldier back then, wrote that he was surprised by the readiness of many of his compatriots to annex the occupied territories. “Did they really believe they could rule over more than 1 million Palestinians forever and that they would put up with our dominance? As if the lessons learned from British rule were forgotten, when we, the Israelis, arose against the foreign dominion? History teaches us that there is no occupation without fire and sword,” Oz said.*

Oz’s expectations have proved to be justified. After the invasion, the conflict with neighboring countries intensified even more. In 1981, Israel annexed the above-mentioned area. The Jewish state justified this step citing the military and strategic importance of the region. From the mountain peaks over 6,500 feet high, southeast Lebanon can easily be monitored and controlled, as well as southwest Syria, for instance, precisely those territories from which Israel was constantly attacked during the Six Day War. Control over the Jordan River also plays an important role in the Jewish state.

At the same time, Syria continues to view the annexed Golan Heights as a legitimate part of its territory. The United Nations monitors a portion of land between the territory of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel and that controlled by Syria.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Israel showed willingness to return the Golan Heights to Syria. But when the civil uprising broke out in 2011, gradually escalating into open war, Israel changed its mind. During the course of the war, the government in Damascus has lost control over huge parts of Syrian territory. Jihadi movements initially invaded Golan, and in August 2014, they seized a number of soldiers from U.N. peacekeeping forces deployed in these places, releasing them a few days later.

In recent months, however, fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah party invaded the same area. Allegedly, they have repeatedly crossed the border into the territories annexed by Israel. If the Iranian militias, which are supported with weapons costing millions, manage to hold the Golan Heights, this would constitute an enormous threat to Israel.

Israeli experts on the issue of national defense believe that the presence of Hezbollah in the rest of the Syrian territory also represents an enormous threat to the Jewish state. In recent weeks and months, Israel has repeatedly attacked Hezbollah’s military fortifications and attempted to block weapon consignments that were likely intended for its fighters in Syria.

If the U.S actually recognizes the Golan Heights annexed by Israel as Israeli territory, this would undoubtedly cause huge frustration among the Arab world, comparable to the discontent evoked by the White House decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be sourced.

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