US Senator Lindsey Graham on Monday vowed to push for American recognition of Israel’s control over the Golan Heights, in a move Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested was aligned with US President Donald Trump’s Israel-supportive policies.
Netanyahu earlier in the day toured the strategic plateau bordering Syria, captured in 1967, with the South Carolina senator and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Following the visit, Graham, a Republican and a Trump ally, said he aims “to persuade the administration to change that designation that it’s not disputed — the Golan is not in dispute.”
“Strategically, I am standing on one of the most important pieces of ground in the State of Israel, and who would you give it back to?” Graham asked, standing alongside Netanyahu and Friedman.
“You’re going to give it to Assad? I think not. You might as well give it to Iran,” Graham said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia.
“You’re going to give it to Russia? I think not. So, the idea of this territory going to somebody else is off the table.”
Graham’s comments were applauded by Netanyahu in a Hebrew-language statement, with the prime minister appearing to suggest that Trump’s support of Israel should lead to US recognition of the Golan.
“What you’ve heard here from Senator Graham are very strong statements that express the US policy, the policy of President Trump, of support for Israel. They are taking this to a very concrete step — to keep the Golan as part of Israel, otherwise our border will be with Iran on the Sea of Galilee, and we cannot accept that,” said Netanyahu. Currently, Israel shares a border with Syria on the Golan Heights. The prime minister, in his remark, was referring to Israel’s concerns over the increased Iranian military activity in the neighboring country.
“I was very happy to hear these statements. I think this is a very important step and very, very promising for our national security,” added the prime minister.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and subsequently annexed it, in a move not recognized by the international community. In light of the civil war in Syria, Israel has in recent years stepped up its calls on friendly governments to recognize that Israel will never return the strategically important territory to the Assad regime, but so far no country has done so.
Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton have pushed for the US to recognize Israel’s hold on the Golan, though the legislation has yet to move forward.
The US president, who in December 2017 became the first American leader to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has not commented on the issue. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A State Department spokesperson said its policy on the Golan Heights “has not changed.” The spokesperson referred questions to Graham.
Friedman in September said he expects the annexed Golan Heights to remain under Israeli control “forever.”
But during a visit to Israel in August, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said there were no discussions on such recognition.
“Obviously, we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the US position for now,” he told the Reuters news agency in an interview.