House and Senate members last week introduced legislation stating that it shall be U.S. policy to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The bill effectively calls for aligning U.S. policy formally with the longstanding reality that Israel’s security needs preclude any future withdrawal from the territory.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) in the Senate and by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) in the House, notes that Iran has “used the war in Syria to establish a long-term military presence in the Levant” and “to attack Israel from across the Golan Heights.” In this context, it is “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria will be an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.”
U.S. recognition would bolster Israel’s position against any Iranian or Syrian attempt to launch operations in the Golan by making clear that an attack on the Golan would constitute an attack on the sovereign state of Israel. As such, it would lend further U.S. support to Israel’s ongoing military operations against Iranian activity in southern Syria.
U.S. recognition could also strip Russia of the ability to play the role of mediator between Syria and Israel in any future talks over the Golan. The Russians have already expressed their wish to assume this role, which would further entrench their influence in the region.
Some opponents of U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty have argued that there is no added value in acknowledging a de facto reality. However, the status quo conveys the impression that Washington regards Israel’s presence in the Golan as illegitimate. All this does is embolden Israel’s adversaries.
Other critics argue that U.S. recognition would alienate Syrians opposed to the Assad regime, turning their attention to Israel and away from Damascus. But this is unlikely to be the case. Furthermore, Assad’s opponents are well aware of how the Syrian dictator, and his father before him, have used peace talks merely to gain international legitimacy. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty would preclude such a possibility. Besides, American policy decisions should not hinge on the possible views of the diverse Syrian opposition groups, however one regards them.
Critics also suggest that U.S. recognition would spur Iranian operations against Israel and, more importantly, Russian acquiescence to such operations. But the Iranians already have been establishing an operational infrastructure, and Russia has done nothing to impede it. Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in southern Syria over the past several weeks underscore this fact.
The U.S. should consider recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan separately from the question of whether to continue any U.S. military deployment in Syria; one should not think of recognizing the Golan as a consolation prize for Israel following the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops. In fact, recognizing the Golan, which both Republican and Democratic leaders have publicly endorsed, would serve to bolster the position of America’s top regional ally against their mutual adversaries.
Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Follow Tony on Twitter @AcrossTheBay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.