Israeli Minister Says U.S. May Soon Recognize Israeli Annexation of Golan

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Israel Golan
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Miriam Alster/Flash90, File)

Israel is pressing the Trump administration to recognize its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Wednesday, predicting U.S. assent could come within months.

Interviewed by Reuters, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz described endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old presence on the Golan as the proposal now “topping the agenda” in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.

There was no immediate comment from the White House on Katz’s remarks.

Katz, a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, cast the Golan proposal as a potential extension of the Trump administration’s confrontational tack against perceived regional expansion and aggression by Iran.

“This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognize Israel’s Golan sovereignty – with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined (in law),” he said.

The message to Tehran, Katz said, would be: “You want to destroy (U.S.-ally Israel), to generate attacks (against it)? Look, you got exactly the opposite.”

The matter, raised by PM Netanyahu in his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump in February 2017, is now under discussion at various levels of the U.S. administration and Congress, Katz said.

“I reckon there is great ripeness and a high probability this will happen,” he said. Asked if such a decision could be made this year, he added: “Yes, give or take a few months.”

Asked about Katz’s comments, a U.S. Embassy official in Israel said: “We don’t as a general policy discuss our diplomatic communications.”

Russia, Damascus’s big-power ally, has long insisted that Syria’s territorial integrity should be restored – a position implicitly requiring an eventual return of the part of the Golan claimed by Israel.

Katz, however, played down any prospect of a blow-up between Moscow and Washington, casting the proposed U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan as a piece of a larger Syria mosaic.

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad beating back the insurgency against him, now could be the opportunity for Pres. Assad and Russia to show the Iranians out, Katz said.

He described the Iranian presence next door as the Netanyahu government’s main concern, by implication offering Pres. Assad a chance for immunity from Israel.

“This is a moment of truth for Assad. Does he want to be an Iranian proxy, or not?” Katz said. “If he becomes an Iranian proxy, then sooner or later he’s condemning himself, because Israel is acting against Iran in Syria … If not, then we have always said we have no interest in getting involved there.”

Russia, Katz said, would respond to a U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan with declarations that “they won’t do the same and they do not have to support this.”

“But in actuality, from their perspective, if it gives Israel something in the wider Syrian context, what do they care? Assad’s survival is more important to them, as Syria is so weak,” he said. “They want a new, overall re-arrangement.”

Katz suggested that a U.S. move on the Golan could also prod the Palestinians – who have shunned the Trump administration since it announced in December that it would relocate the embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv – to revive peace talks.

“They should hurry up and sit down with Israel, because where Israel says it is determined to be, it will be, and it won’t give up, and history is working in our favor,” he said.