With or Without Sovereignty, Israel Should Have Full Control of the Golan Heights 

The recent announcement by President Donald Trump recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights generated a number of reactions. The Israeli government and the main political opposition in Israel welcomed the move. Some observers interpreted the move as a gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a tough re-election in April amid a possible indictment on corruption charges.

Other critics claim that Trump’s move is likely to call attention to a piece of territory that, unlike the West Bank or Gaza, has attracted little international attention.

Some have correctly pointed out that such a step will not make any difference, because Israel’s control of the territory ensures that neither Iran nor terrorist groups like Al Nusra—an offshoot of Al Qaeda—gain control of that territory.

All of these opinions are certainly legitimate; however, it is the European reaction that is the most puzzling.

The European Union issued a statement saying that it does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, including the Golan Heights, and “does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory”.

More absurd was the statement issued by the German foreign ministry pointing out that “the Golan Heights is a Syrian territory occupied by Israel. National borders should be changed only through peaceful means between all those involved. The government rejects unilateral steps.”

The French Foreign Ministry stated that “the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, occupied territory, would be contrary to international law, in particular the obligation for states not to recognize an illegal situation”.

To be sure, Israel conquered the Golan Heights in 1967 after a war that Israel had little choice but to preemptively wage. Years before that war, the Syrian government had picked fights with Israel, shelling Israeli towns and communities from the Golan Heights, diverting the waters from the Jordan River in order to deprive the Israelis of this crucial water source, and organizing Palestinian guerilla attacks against Israelis from its territory. All the while, it used these provocations to drag the rest of the Arab world— particularly Egypt, with whom it had a mutual defense agreement— into a total Arab war against Israel.

These Syrian activities were encouraged by the Soviets, who had a strong political and military alliance with the Syrian government. The Syrians became even more aggressive than the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, eventually forcing Nasser into enforcing the pact he had with Syria. Indeed, Egypt’s escalation of the tension that led to that war was triggered by Syria.

Since 1967, Syria fought one more war against Israel, in 1973, and a few battles in Lebanon during Israel’s 1982 Operation Peace for Galilee. Since that time, Syria has strategically supported the activities of Hezbollah and Iran against Israel from Lebanese soil. Meanwhile, Syria has eluded every attempt to come to the table and engage in peace negotiations with Israel, even when the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin publicly offered to return the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace.

European countries’ dependency on Arab oil has led to their total political capitulation. The European Union’s policy of labeling goods made in the Israeli settlements include the Golan Heights.

If the Europeans believe there is a “legal” alternative to Israeli control of the Golan Heights, then what is exactly that alternative? A Russian, Iranian or Al Nusra take over?

Bashar al-Assad – whose continuation in leadership the Europeans strongly object to— is recovering control of Syrian territory with Russian and Iranian help. An Israeli withdrawal from the Golan would increase the influence of these two powers in the area, plus Turkey, whose main objective is to crush the Kurds, who have been instrumental in defeating ISIS.

So, what is the point on insisting on the dubious claim that Israel controlling the Golan is “illegal”? Perhaps to reinforce the demand that the Golan be returned to Syria. Such a move would strengthen Iran at the expense of Sunni Arab states, empower Assad, and leave Israel vulnerable to guerrilla warfare and shelling from Hezbollah.

Israel, along with the Kurds, remain the only reliable western allies in Syria and the only ones capable of countervailing the negative influences of Iran, Russia and Turkey.

If the Golan Heights “legally” and actually belongs to Syria, as European nations claim, how exactly does this position serve the European goals and interests in the region? Such a display of European weakness can only make it more vulnerable to Russian aggression—  something Europeans fear more than anything else

There should be little dispute that, in this chaotic situation, Israel should keep the Golan Heights indefinitely.

About Luis Fleischman

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior Adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College. He is the author of the book, "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States."