President Donald Trump recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory on Monday, stating Israel depends on the lands seized from Syria in the 1967 war for “defense, and perhaps offense” from an array of enemies in the Middle East naming Hizbollah in Syria, Iran and the Gaza Strip.
“Today aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hizbollah continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel,” Trump said.
Territory gained during acts of war, even defensive war, are strictly prohibited by international law. The UN Security Council voted in 1967 for Israel to return the Golan Heights. Israel officially annexed the lands by legislation in 1981. No other country has recognized Israeli control over the Golan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke alongside the president, stating Israel had “liberated the Golan” from Syria during two military campaigns, in 1967 and in 1973. Netanyahu said he personally fought in Syria for the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 war.
“While Israel won those two wars, we would have to wait nearly half a century until this moment here in this room to translate our military victory into a diplomatic victory,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu mentioned an escalation with Gaza unfolding where Israel and Hamas have inched closer to war over the last few hours.
“Yesterday a rocket was fired from Gaza deep inside of Israel. It hit a home north of Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said, “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” adding, “I have a simple message to Israel’s enemies, we will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state.”
Today Israeli forces struck sites inside of Gaza today. The Associated Press reported, “Israeli airstrike flattens multi-story building in Gaza City, military says it was a secret Hamas headquarters.” In live-streams posted by Palestinian news sources, the hums of Israeli aircraft are audible.
After addressing the press and a meeting with senior administration officials, Netanyahu will return to Israel. He was in the U.S. for scheduled bi-lateral talks and an appearance at the AIPAC lobby group’s annual summit. His participation was cancelled at the conference he could return home to “lead the people of Israel and the soldiers of Israel.”
Pence speaks to AIPAC
Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the AIPAC policy conference this morning in Washington DC to an audience of 18,000 where he announced in advance that Trump would recognize the Golan as part of Israel.
In a speech that made numerous biblical references and quotations, Pence claimed the Golan Heights were part of Israel and that Syria had unlawfully conquered it, exerting “enemy control” over the occupied territory. He said the U.S. stands “with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, we believe in liberty over tyranny.”
“For 20 years after Israel’s rebirth Syria held the Golan Heights and with its massive artillery it held Israel hostage. This crucial region changed hands only after Israel won a war that was forced upon her,” Pence said.
Referencing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who was scrutinized for remarks over AIPAC in recent weeks resulting in the House passing a bill against anti-Semitism, Pence said she should be removed from her position for allegedly questioning so-called dual loyalties for American Jews. He started, “There was a time when support for Israel was not a partisan issue here in Washington,” before pivoting to Omar,
“Recently a freshman Democrat in Congress trafficked in repeated anti-Semitic tropes, alleged congressional support for Israel reflected an allegiance to a foreign country, said that Israel had – and I quote – “hypnotized the world,” and she accused Americans who support Israel of being bought off with campaign contributions. Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States of America.
And at a minimum, anyone who slanders those who support this historic alliance between the United States and Israel should never have a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives.”
The staunch rebuke of Omar contrasted with an apparent off script moment during Trump and Netanyahu’s briefing with reporters where the president turned to ambassador Friedman who stood on the podium along with senior advisor Jared Kushner, Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Trump said to Friedman, “Thank you very much ambassador. You enjoying it?” to which Friedman responded, “Yes, thank you.”
“And you love Israel?” Trump asked. Friedman, who is Jewish, responded, “And America.”
The president added, “Good, and America. I was waiting for him to say that.” (3:15 in the video above)
U.S. recognition over the Golan Heights comes just two weeks before Israeli elections, and in advance of the expected release of the administration’s peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians.