State Department lifers at Foggy Bottom must have been convulsing with horror this past Monday when Donald Trump announced that the United States would formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. There had been strong indications in recent months that US policy was shifting in favor of recognition.
In November 2018, the US opposed a yearly ritualistic United Nations General Assembly pro forma resolution condemning Israeli control over the Golan Heights. In previous years, the US abstained. Then in early March, the State Department’s annual report on global human rights issues referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli controlled” rather than “Israeli occupied,” a subtle but significant distinction not lost on Israel’s enemies, chiefly Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and to a lesser extent, Hamas and the so-called Palestinian Authority.
On Monday President Trump made history again by shattering the unsustainable status quo and extending formal recognition to Israel’s claim over the territory. The Golan plateau, an area of approximately 400 square miles that overlooks all of Galilee, was liberated by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law, a legal step tantamount to annexation. Predictably, the move was not recognized internationally, and was even condemned by stalwart allies wishing to preserve the status quo and avoid offending the Muslim world.
The Swamp’s response to Trump’s latest foreign policy coup was predictably hysterical. The New York Times, among other leftist outlets argued that formal legal recognition greenlights acts of territorial seizure through war and cited Russia’s seizure of Crimea as an example. Turkey’s authoritarian, Islamist leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, stated that Turkey will never allow the legitimization of Israel's invasion of the Golan Heights. This coming from the leader of a country that has invaded Syria and Iraq, occupies northern Cyprus, and routinely violates Greek airspace and maritime boundaries. There were hoots and hollers from other quarters as well, including Iran, Hezbollah, the PA and the ever-dependable European Union.
There is, however, a crucial difference between Russia’s seizure of Crimea and Israel’s conquest of the Golan Heights. Ukraine did not threaten Russia militarily. Ukraine never used Crimea as a platform to bombard Russian towns and villages. Ukraine never used Crimea as a platform to send terrorists to infiltrate Russia, and Ukraine never used Crimea as a platform to prevent water resources from being delivered to Russia. In sum, Ukraine never did anything to provoke Russia. Putin’s invasion of Crimea was a land grab, pure and simple.
By contrast, Israel’s conquest of the Golan Heights was precipitated by a laundry list of Syrian border transgressions. Prior to 1967, the Syrians routinely used their dominating positions on the Golan to shell Galilee. Israeli residents of border communities had to endure massive bombardments and were forced to spend much of their time in bomb shelters. Farmers tilling their fields had to weld armor plates to their tractors to protect against shell fragments. Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were also subjected to Syrian shelling and machinegun fire.
In 1967, Israel was semi-arid and its main water resource was the Sea of Galilee. Waters from the Sea of Galilee were channeled through a system of industrial piping to Israel’s parched south, making the desert bloom. Two of the Sea of Galilee’s three tributaries originated from the Golan. The Syrians attempted to divert these Golan tributaries in an effort to deprive Israel of its water resources. Their efforts failed but their plotting and scheming persisted.
On April 7, 1967 the Israeli Air Force went into action to silence Syrian guns that opened up on Israeli Galilee communities. The guns were destroyed and six Syrian MiG-21s sent to intercept were promptly shot down. Following that humiliation, Damascus plotted with the Kremlin to concoct a story alleging that Israel was massing troops on the border, readying for an invasion. It was a blatant lie but that mendacity set in motion a chain of events, including an Egyptian blockade of the Tiran Straits, which led to the Six-Day War.
Israel was forced to act and liberated the Golan in defensive conquest. Never in the history of warfare has a nation been forced to cede land liberated in defensive conquest to an aggressor nation. Moreover, Syria itself is no longer a nation but rather a land mass governed by various militias –Kurdish, Turkman and Arab – and a warlord named Bashar Assad.
Finally, one cannot discuss the Golan without noting its deeply rooted and historical nexus to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Numerous ancient synagogues dot the Golan landscape, including a magnificently reconstructed one at Keshatot Rechavam (aka Umm el Kanatir), evidencing widespread Jewish settlement. During the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome, the Golan was the site of fierce battles pitting Jewish troops against Rome’s formidable legions. A large volume of weapons including swords, arrow heads and catapult balls were uncovered during archaeological excavations at Gamla, an ancient Jewish village in central Golan. In fact, Gamla is sometimes referred to as the Masada of the north, testament to the ferocity of the fighting.
Despite the naysayers, Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was correct, both morally and legally, and in America’s interests. The enemies of the United States including Iran and Hezbollah should take note that unlike the previous administration, the current administration does not vote with despots and does not abandon its allies.