The risks in US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants to convince US President Donald Trump to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. That would be an acknowledgement that has never been considered by previous American administrations and that runs counter to international law, which views the Golan as an occupied territory that belongs to Syria.
In an interview with Reuters, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz claimed that a formal US recognition of the Golan Heights could happen within months. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967.
In the past, Israel claimed it was willing to consider returning the Golan to Syria to establish peace with its Arab neighbour. In more recent years, Israel has argued that there’s no side to return the area to. The civil war in Syria and Iran’s presence backing Damascus are reasons to extend Israel’s strategy.
Israel fears the area, on return to Syria, could fall under the control of the Islamic State, which until recently controlled large parts of Syria, or ending up in the hands of Hezbollah.
Even without those risks, returning the Golan Heights to a violent regime of a war-torn country is less than reasonable. However, thinking that the only logical next step would be US recognition of Israeli’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is blunt and improvident.
After the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, American recognition of the Golan Heights would mean another triumph for Israel. The embassy move and Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital angered Palestinians who view Jerusalem as the capital of future Palestine and caused violence throughout the city.
East Jerusalem — the Arab part of the city — was conquered the same time as the Golan Heights in 1967. The annexation of both areas that followed in the 1980s is rejected by the international community and the White House has yet to confirm the consideration to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Katz said the Israeli proposal is the most important topic on the agenda in bilateral talks between the two countries but it isn’t the first time the issue was raised by Israel. In his first visit to Trump after the president’s inauguration, Netanyahu asked the United States to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
The issue is of great importance to Israel, since US recognition would put extra pressure on Iran, which is involved in the Syrian war and known as Israel’s archenemy. American recognition, however, could result in more military action in the region, not to mention compromise future peace arrangements that could have been between Israel and Syria.
Trump pulled out of the international Iran nuclear deal that was intended to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power. “It is the perfect time for this move,” said Katz but Israel seems to have forgotten the risk of violent escalation if its sovereignty over the Golan Heights is recognised by the United States.
Another risk Israel takes with this proposal is assuming the United States will continuously back Israel in any decision. The United States doesn’t tend to disagree with Israel’s strategies but, if violence at the Gaza border continues, international criticism would rise and there would be a limit on American support for Israel.
Netanyahu is aware of this risk; the news of the Israeli proposal on the Golan Heights comes after he changed his attitude towards reaching an agreement with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel has recently been working on finding an arrangement that would ease pressure on Hamas and would include a halt of the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
Such an arrangement would make it easier for the United States to continue its support for Israel, including recognition of the Golan Heights.
US support, however, does not mean a crisis won’t erupt. If Israel pursues this issue recklessly and pushes the American government into making a rash decision, the country might be worse off.