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Opinion | Jeff Jacoby: Israel's Golan sovereignty should have been recognized years ago







During a White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, President Trump signed a formal proclamation that the United States recognizes sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In so doing, the president acknowledged a long-standing fact of life, bolstered a vital American ally, promoted stability in a deeply unstable neighborhood, and upheld the often-ignored but crucial distinction between acquiring territory through aggression and acquiring through lawful self-defense. Good outcomes all, extending the Trump administration's already exemplary record when it comes to the Middle East.

Trump's policy shift was not well with everyone, of course. Those angrily denouncing it included the dictators and terror-sponsors who rule Iran, Turkey, Russia, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. Tellingly, though, there was barely any protest from most Arab governments, which in recent years have come to value Israel as a whole against Iran and its proxies. As a CNN headline, it puts it, "Trump's Golan Heights announcement with a shrug in the Arab world."

The president's signature changes nothing on the ground. Israel has held the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights ̵

1; a plateau towers over the Sea of ​​Galilee and much of northern Israel – since the 1967 Six Day War. Syria joined Egypt and Jordan in an assault that Syria's Defense Minister Hafez Assad had labeled "a battle of annihilation" to "explode the Zionist presence" in the Mideast.

But Israel declined to be annihilated or exploded. It repelled its invaders and seized the Golan Heights, from which Syria had been shelling Jewish farms and towns for more than 20 years. In the aftermath of the war, Israel offered to return the territory in exchange for peace. Damascus refused to negotiate. It tried to recapture the Golan Heights in a massive armored invasion in 1973. Israel repelled that threat too.

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Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday Thus, Israel has ruled the Golan Heights for 52 years (1967-2019) – more than twice as long as the 21 years of Syrian rule that started in 1946. The contrast between the two eras could not be more open-and-shut, than Michael Doran, former senior director of the National Security Council, testified before Congress last year:

"The last 70 years constitute the laboratory of real life, and its results are incontrovertible, ”Doran told the House Oversight Committee during a hearing on US-Israel relations. "When in the hands of Syria, the Golan Heights promoted conflict. When in the hands of Israel, they have promoted stability. ”Nonetheless, Israeli and US leaders in the 1990s kept trying to entice Damascus to make peace with its Jewish neighbor in exchange for a return of the Golan. A his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu used a secret back channel to communicate with Syrian President Bashar Assad about a land-for-peace deal.

Fortunately, nothing came of those efforts. Syria's implosion in 2011 plunged into a civil war that eventually included Iran, Russia, the Islamic State, and Hezbollah. If Israel had retained the Golan Heights, it would probably have been captured by Iran or ISIS, and Israel might have faced an unspeakable existential nightmare. Instead, the Golan Heights remained an oasis of stability and decency amid the savagery of the Syrian war. Israel even made use of the territory to provide free medical care to thousands of Syrian civilians.
If Israel had said the Golan Heights as an act of aggression, it would arguably have no right to keep the country even after all these years. But in 1967, Israel was the target. It told the Golan in a defensive war against an enemy explicitly pointed to "annihilation." To claim otherwise is to claim that a belligerent aggressor should lose nothing for waging and unlawful. That would be folly. By endorsing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, the Trump administration is sending a message of deterrence to would-be warmers. It's a message that should have been sent years ago. Better late than never.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby . To subscribe to his new weekly newsletter, Arguable, click here.


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