US President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the time has come to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a move that is considered to be a huge gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just three weeks before the election.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognise Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump posted in a tweet.
Netanyahu phoned Trump – whom he will be meeting next Monday and Tuesday in Washington – and thanked him for “making history.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019
Before a dinner with visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu called the move a “Purim miracle.”
“He did it again,” Netanyahu said of Trump. “First, he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy here. Then, he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions. But now, he did something of equal historic importance.”
Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan comes “at a time when Iran is trying to use Syria as a platform to attack and destroy Israel,” he said, adding that the message Trump sent the world was: “America stands by Israel.”
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! @realDonaldTrump
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 21, 2019
“We’re celebrating Purim, when 2,500 years ago, other Persians – led by Haman – tried to destroy the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “They failed then. And today, 2,500 years later, Persians led by Khamenei are again trying to destroy the Jewish people and the Jewish state. They’re going to fail again.”
Trump’s decision reverses 52 years of US policy, and is on par with his decision from December 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Netanyahu has been arguing that at a time when Iran is trying to set up a permanent military presence in Syria, holding the Golan is critical for Israel’s security and to thwart Iran’s designs.
The move on the Golan is expected to be widely condemned – just as the Jerusalem decision was – especially by Moscow, the patron of Syrian President Bashar Assad who continues to claim the strategic plateau.
Israel took control of the Golan Heights during the Six Day War and formally annexed it in 1981.
Pompeo, a US army veteran, said that as a cadet he studied the battles of the Golan, especially the 1973 tank battle in the Valley of Tears, when a massively out-manned Israeli force heroically managed to repel a Syrian assault.
“Tonight, President Trump made the decision to recognise that hard-fought real estate, that important place, that is proper to be a sovereign part of the State of Israel,” he said.
Pompeo characterised Trump’s decision as “bold,” and said that “for the people of Israel, it will truly be historic.”
“The people of Israel should know that the battles they fought and the lives they lost on that very ground were worthy and meaningful and important for all time,” he added.
Pompeo, in his remarks, also mentioned the tour he took to the Old City earlier in the day, including a visit to the Western Wall with Netanyahu, making him the highest ranking US official to ever visit the Wall in the presence of an Israeli prime minister. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the Wall, but they did it with their families, not accompanied by Netanyahu.
Pompeo – who also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and said that, as a “person of faith,” it is always inspiring to visit Jerusalem – said that it was an “incredible privilege” to visit the Wall with Netanyahu, and was “indicative of the remarkable relationship between the two countries.”
Netanyahu, in a play on Pompeo’s Italian name, joked in reference to Rome’s destruction of the Second Temple that “the last time a Pompeo visited Jerusalem, it didn’t end that well. But this is a different time. Rome and Jerusalem clashed over values, with a great tragedy for the Jewish people. But the new Rome – the United States – views itself as a new Jerusalem. We visited the original City on the Hill. We visited the hill.”
Netanyahu said there was no greater friendship than the one between Israel and the US, and no better representative of that friendship than Pompeo.
Pompeo, who arrived on Wednesday, will travel to Lebanon on Friday for what he said would be tough talks with the Lebanese about the influence of Hezbollah, which is now part of the Lebanese government.
In a briefing with reporters traveling with him, Pompeo said that Hezbollah was “a terrorist organisation – period, full stop. This is an organisation underwritten by the Islamic Republic of Iran with the intention of the destruction of Israel and, if you listen to them closely, the destruction of Western democracy, including the United States of America as well.”
Pompeo said he will make it “abundantly clear” to his Lebanese hosts that Hezbollah creates enormous risks for Lebanon.
Regarding Iran, which was a central focus of his talks in Israel, Pompeo said that the US will “continue to increase the pressure” it is applying on the Islamic republic to change its behaviour.
“Remember the simple goal,” he said. “The simple goal is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation: stop blowing up things around the world; stop fomenting terrorism; stop their assassination campaign in Europe; and stop underwriting the Houthis, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Simple things – the same things we ask every nation in the world to do – we’re asking of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”