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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Dore Gold Asserts Israel’s Legal Rights to the Golan Heights at International Meeting in Moscow

Filed under: International Law, Israel, Israeli Security

Dore Gold told the Valdai conference in Moscow on February 19, 2018:

Israel has been taking a strong stand, and will continue to take a strong stand, against the conversion of Syria into a satellite state of Iran, which would be used as a launching pad for aggression against the northern part of my country. As a result, we are prepared to take measures, and active measures, against the supply of advanced weaponry to Iranian proxy forces like Hizbullah, which could alter aspects of the military balance. We have also been concerned about the deployment of a Shiite expeditionary army under Iranian command, made up of Iraqi, Afghan, and other troops along Israel’s northern border, which would be backed by Iranian air and naval bases, which we understand are being planned at the present time.

Let me close, since I’m surveying the Syrian situation, with one last point. I know in this conference we’re looking at different futures for different countries, but regardless of what happens in Syria, and regardless of what happens with the question of the Syrian Kurds, it’s important to stress that from the point of view of Israel, in the southern part of that area, the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Vitaly Naumkin:* Dore Gold, I’ll start with your last statement. In my view, this statement strongly contradicts international law about… What I mean is that what you said about the Golan contradicts international law, both international law and rational thinking about what’s going on, and how the issue can be resolved. Do you really think that the best way to deal with the security of Israel (which is, of course understandable in this part of your world) is to annex Syrian territory in the Golan Heights? You remember that there were very fruitful negotiations in the days of Hafez al-Assad between Syria and Israel, and it was almost 90% agreed. So why are you now saying that it will never come back to Syria? And what do you think about abiding by international law norms about that?

Dore Gold: On the issue, you mentioned international law.  Well I’ll tell you, as somebody who has to appear a great deal on British and American television, I hear the words “international law” used quite frequently. I would just tell you the basis of my saying that our claim to the Golan Heights is not in violation of international law, and I’ll be very, very brief. Great international lawyers, after the 1967 Six-Day War, drew a distinction between wars of self-defense and wars of aggression. Taking territory in a war of aggression is a violation of international law. Asserting your rights to territory in a war of self-defense is a whole different story, and the source I recommend one turn to is the writing of Stephen Schwebel, who was president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Before he reached that position, he wrote an article in the American Journal of International Law. True, it is a United States publication, but it is respected worldwide, and he made that distinction. Now you could say, “Well, how do we know? In the Six-Day War, Israel was maybe an aggressor.” This takes us to the dark days of the Cold War, but the Soviet Union sought to have Israel branded as the aggressor after the Six-Day War. They tried it in the General Assembly, but they failed. They tried it in the Security Council, but they failed because it was generally understood by the international community that Israel was acting out of self-defense, and therefore our claim to the Golan Heights is on very strong legal grounds. We’re not going to expand on that, but we are not oblivious to international law. We seek to fulfill international law.

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* Vitaly Naumkin is a Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, President of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Advisor to President Putin on Syria.