The United States referred to the Golan Heights as an area “under Israeli control,” instead of “occupied territory,” for the first time in its latest annual human rights report, published on Wednesday by the State Department, Axios reported.
Israel captured most of the Golan Heights from Syria during the June 1967 Six Day War. While the Jewish State ceded a portion of the land as part of a separation of forces agreement with Syria following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel has retained roughly two-thirds of the Heights. Foreign governments, including the U.S., to this date do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territory.
The change in language came amid intensified efforts by Israel to win U.S. recognition of its claim of sovereignty over the mountainous plateau in the northeast of the country. Israel sees the Golan Heights as an important strategic asset in the defense of its northern borders. The territory forms a critical buffer zone of about 450 square miles between Israel and Syria.
Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights has both support and opposition in Washington.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) visited the Golan Heights on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and vowed to “start an effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu later praised Graham in a statement to Israeli journalists, saying, “I was very happy to hear him say those words. I think this is a very important direction, and very, very promising to our national security.”
The prime minister stressed that securing “the Golan as part of Israel” was a priority to the Jewish State because “otherwise our border with Iran will be on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and we aren’t willing to accept that.”
In January, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the U.S. should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Earlier, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) had sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, calling for the official recognition. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is also supporting the move.
The two Democratic Congressmen followed Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who introduced a resolution in December that stated, “Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is critical to Israel’s national security” and that “Israel’s security from attack from Syria and Lebanon cannot be assured without Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
[Photo: Kyle Taylor / Flickr ]