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

Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty on the Golan Heights

Filed under: Israel, Israeli Security, Syria, U.S. Policy

Amb. Dore Gold testified in Washington before the House Subcommittee on National Security on July 17, 2018.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis: Ambassador Gold, would this be in Israel’s national security interest to have U.S. recognition of the Golan?

Gold: I believe that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan would unquestionably be in Israel’s security interest. Look, everyone talks about Israeli forces staying on the Golan Heights. That’s in the famous Ford letter from 1975, repeated again by James Baker’s letter before Madrid, repeated again by Warren Christopher’s letter to Israel. So that concept is a bipartisan concept.

Now let’s use our minds for a minute. How do you keep Israeli forces on the Golan Heights if people think it’s Syrian sovereign territory? I don’t think a seminar at Harvard Law School could figure this one out.

De Santis: I think that actually may be the last place you’d want to figure it out.

Gold: What I am saying is the best way to assure that is to do the logical thing and assure Israeli sovereignty and that will protect the Israeli military presence that almost everybody agrees must be continued, particularly when you’re at the end of a war in Syria where a number of countries are now going to come and say, “Okay, how do we create a new order in Syria? We get rid of the Israelis in the Golan.” Prevent it; establish Israeli sovereignty.

Rep. Jody Hice: Ambassador Gold, how important was President Trump’s decision to move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem?

Gold: It was extremely important and extremely appreciated by the vast majority of the people of Israel.

Hice: Now we have Assad’s regime, a campaign in southern Syria obviously threatening Israel’s sovereignty. What are the implications of that?

Gold:  The current campaign, which Assad’s people say is to recover Syrian territory from ISIS, is really part of a much wider effort of the Iranian axis – which they call themselves the “axis of resistance” – to establish this land bridge across the Middle East which will enshrine Iranian hegemony in the region. That should be our point of departure. If some Arab states are not willing to come to this committee and extol the idea of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, it’s because our diplomatic work – and I was involved in Golan negotiations for the State of Israel. I was involved in contacts with the Arab states. You can reach agreements quietly, but not publicly on a lot of sensitive issues. I don’t believe that suddenly Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or the UAE would downgrade their relations with the United States because the United States recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory. To the contrary, you would be serving the interest of the anti-Iranian group among the Middle Eastern states.

Hice: Exactly, and that’s why we have a role of leadership in this whole question. So how would the question of Golan sovereignty factor into what Syria is currently doing?

Gold:  Well, there would no longer be a question mark about the Golan Heights, that if the Syrians could launch a surprise attack and seize some territory, they could move a diplomatic process that allows them to take Golan territory at the end of the day. That would be defeated. It would be clear that the United States is on the side of Israel staying on the Golan Heights permanently. I think it would deter aggression rather than stimulate it.

 Rep. Doug Lamborn: I do want to focus in more than we have so far on Iran and Iran’s designs. Has the status quo changed? Ambassador Kurtzer mentioned the status quo. For 50 some years Israel has been maintaining a status quo, you say, and a happy status quo – I’ve heard that phrase – but haven’t things changed? Could you comment on whether the status quo has changed to the point where the U.S. policy should change?

Gold: The fact of the matter is that the Iranians are planning on building a very large army. Now these Shiite militias are trained and equipped by Iran and deployed in Syria. The goal, according to General Soleimani himself, is to get to 150,000 men. Now remember, Israel does not keep the whole Israeli army on the Golan Heights. It has a small blocking force. The number of soldiers it puts there is classified. But after 48 hours we get to full mobilization and then we can withstand an attack. Now if there is a massive Iranian force in the next five to six years that develops in Syria, that plans to attack Israel, Israel’s dependence on the Golan Heights and the initial terrain conditions that the Golan presents to Israel will become more vital. There’s no alternative to Israeli military presence on the Golan Heights, enshrined, protected diplomatically by Israeli sovereignty.

Lamborn: And by U.S. recognition of that sovereignty?

Gold: And the U.S. recognition of that sovereignty. That would be the strongest defense of Israel.