Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday pushed back after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cast doubt over Washington’s recognition — under former president Donald Trump — of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights.
Blinken said on Monday that under current conditions he supports Israel controlling the Golan Heights, but appeared to question the legality of the Trump administration’s decision regarding the strategic plateau.
“The Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” Blinken said in an interview with CNN. But “legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a terse statement in response, saying that “the Golan Heights will remain forever a part of the State of Israel.”
“The Israeli position is clear. In any possible scenario, the Golan Heights will remain Israeli,” Netanyahu’s office said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a tour in the West Bank that the government needs to work with US President Joe Biden’s administration to “expand” normalization with Arab countries and the recognition of the Golan as Israeli.
In 2019, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the wider international community.
During his interview, Blinken was asked if the Biden administration would continue to “see the Golan Heights as part of Israel.”
“Look, leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” Blinken said.
“As long as [dictator Bashar] Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” he said.
However, he indicated that in the future US could be open to reexamining that position.
Secy. of State Antony Blinken on whether the US will continue to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights: "Leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel's security as long as Assad is in power in Syria" pic.twitter.com/yHQBr7FvgP
— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) February 9, 2021
“Legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at. But we are nowhere near as that,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of his predecessor Mike Pompeo, who made a rare visit to the Golan Heights in November.
“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized, what the previous presidents have refused to do,” Pompeo said. “This is a part of Israel and central part of Israel.”
Pompeo condemned what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America,” for Israel to return the Golan to Syria. “Imagine with Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo said.