The U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s office announced on Thursday that for the first time, when the U.N. votes on Friday on its annual resolution condemning Israel over the Golan Heights, instead of abstaining, the U.S. will vote against the resolution. The office tweeted, “The U.S. will no longer abstain when the U.N. engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel; on Friday, we will vote no.”
As The Times of Israel notes, the “Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution, which is non-binding, is voted on annually by the U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee, and refers to the “illegality of the decision” taken by Israel “to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan.” Israel annexed the territory in 1981.
Holding the Golan is vital for Israel’s security interests; in the past Arab enemies have had the capacity to fire down on Israeli villages and towns.
Although the United States and other countries do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, still considering it Syrian territory despite the fact that Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley stated, “The atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone.” As The Times of Israel writes, “In August, Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia reached the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights after capturing the territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon lauded the Trump administration, asserting, “The change in the American voting pattern is another testament to the strong cooperation between the two countries. It is time for the world to distinguish between those who stabilize the region and those who sow terror.”
The case for Israel keeping the Golan Heights was explained comprehensively by Israeli political commentator Eylon Aslan Levy in 2016. First, he explained the history behind the issue: “The Golan Heights is a strategic ridge abutting the Sea of Galilee. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War when it repelled an invasion by the Syrian army. Rejecting Israel’s surprise offer at the war’s end to return the Heights in exchange for peace, Syria launched a failed but bloody bid to recapture the Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel formally annexed the Golan on December 14, 1981. Three days later, the United Nations Security Council unanimously declared the annexation null and void in Resolution 497, demanding that Israel rescind its decision.”
Levy pointed out that Syria was likely to splinter, with the Kurds declaring an autonomous Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) in March 2016 and the civil war was ongoing. He wrote, “Israel cannot risk the presence of a powerful army or jihadist guerillas along the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. This means that Israeli possession of the Golan is vital for regional security, because a war in which the Golan is used against Israel would have regional ramifications. Considering Hezbollah’s heavy involvement in the Syrian war, anything that allows the Iranian proxy to threaten Israeli territory increases the prospects and potential scope of a regional war in which Israel will use force that many will undoubtedly condemn as disproportionate in order to eliminate the threat of incessant rocket attacks on a vulnerable population.”
Levy added, “Hezbollah and Iran are likely to invoke Israel’s presence on the Heights as an excuse for further aggression, so the world needs to resolve in advance that it will categorically reject such arguments and treat the Golan border as inviolable.”
Levy noted that more and more Golan Druze were taking Israeli citizenship. He added, “The Heights were not conquered in an aggressive war, and the Security Council notably rejected the idea that the annexation was aggressive in a Jordanian draft resolution on the issue.”
The process by which the world might recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Heights, however, will not be easy. The world needs not wait until the official collapse of Syria, but these scenarios may still be a way off, as the world powers resist recognizing the inevitable. Iran and Russia have every interest in maximizing Assad’s control over Syria, and would only write off the country as an absolute last resort. Recognizing breakaway states would raise uncomfortable questions about what is to be done about ISIS. And the current areas of control by various parties to the Syrian civil war do not neatly divide into separate, coherent entities that could be viable states.
But as surrounding states collapse further into a war of all against all, international recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan would be a bold statement in defense of the international order. Should the world fail to make such a statement, the Middle East could yet pay a heavy price for the world’s failure to let an anachronistic policy fall into desuetude.