Damascus was conspicuously silent on Thursday after US President Donald Trump said that the time had come to “fully recognize” Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.
There was no immediate reaction from Syria, which has long vowed to recover every inch of the Golan from Israel.
Syria’s neighbor Turkey was the first major power to condemn the move, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu warning it “will only lead to more violence and pain in the region.”
“The territorial integrity of states is the most fundamental principle of international law,” he tweeted. “Attempts by the #US to legitimize #Israel’s actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region. Turkey supports #Syria’s territorial integrity.”
The Arab league also reportedly condemned the move.
“The League of Arab States fully supports Syria’s right for its occupied territory. We have a specific position, based on resolutions, on this issue,” Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said according the Russian Sputnik news agency.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981, a step tantamount to annexation. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. The plateau lies along a strategic area on the border between Israel and Syria.
There was also no immediate comment from Russia, which is a major influence in the region and is fighting alongside Syrian dictator Basher Assad in the Syrian civil war.
The EU was also silent as was the United Nations, which maintains a peacekeeping force in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria on the Golan.
The moved faced some criticism from within the US with Leon Panetta a veteran Democrat who served as CIA director and defense secretary, among other roles, blasting Trump for “tweeting out another policy that obviously has not been worked out with our international partners.”
Former US diplomat and current director of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas tweeted that he “strongly disagreed” with Trump, saying that the move would hamper future attempts to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states.
strongly disagree @realDonaldTrump; now NOT the time 4 US to recognize Israel sovereignty over Golan Hts. No Arab govt would make peace w Israel & would violate UNSCR 242 which rules out acquiring territory by war and serves Israel as it says all states have right 2 live in peace
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) March 21, 2019
Dan Shapiro, who served as US envoy to Israel under Barack Obama, noted that Trump’s declaration had seemingly been made without any consideration for how it may affect the balance of power in the region.
“Unikely there has been any policy planning process to consider potential reactions by Russia, Assad regime, Hezbollah, Arab states, Europe, etc., some of which may not be immediate,” he tweeted.
Unikely there has been any policy planning process to consider potential reactions by Russia, Assad regime, Hezbollah, Arab states, Europe, etc., some of which may not be immediate. A decision like this should factor in such questions. No evidence it has. https://t.co/ynFp0y8zwA
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) March 21, 2019
But there was quick approval from the senior Republican in the US Senate, Lindsey Graham, who is pushing for Congress to recognize Israeli control over the Golan.
“President Trump’s decision to recognize the Golan as part of Israel is strategically wise and overall awesome. Well done, Mr. President!” Graham tweeted.
And Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt hailed “another bold, courageous, and historic decision by @POTUS who understands Israel and its security needs. Thank you President Trump for your tremendous leadership!”
Following the announcement, Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Trump by phone to thank him. “You made history,” his office quoted him telling the US president.
Netanyahu also put out a tweet welcoming Trump’s statement.
“At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump,” he said. He issued similar praise at a joint press conference he held Thursday evening with visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
AFP contributed to this report