The United States is not considering recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Reuters in an interview published Wednesday. “I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the U.S. government,” Bolton said on a visit to Israel. “Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there’s no change in the U.S. position for now.”
In addition, Bolton said, the United States continued to insist that Iran remove its presence from Syria. At a meeting with President Donald Trump in July, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he could not “compel” Iran to leave Syria, Bolton told Reuters. “But he also told us that his interest and Iran’s were not exactly the same. So we’re obviously going to talk to him about what role they can play,” the U.S. official said, adding that “we’re going see what we and others can agree in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria. But the one prerequisite there is the withdrawal of all Iranian forces back in Iran.”
Israel has demanded that Iran leave Syria, and defense officials have declared numerous times that Israel will not allow Tehran a permanent presence in its northern neighbor. In recent months, foreign media has reported on numerous attacks on Iranian bases, weapons storage facilities and manufacturing sites located in Syria. The reports have attributed these attacks to Israel, which has either denied or withheld comment on the accusations.
With the return of Syrian army control to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, Israel has formally requested that the United Nations return its peacekeeping force to the neutral zone on the Syrian side of the border. In an interview with Yisrael Hayom, IDF Northern Command head Asher Ben-Lulu said that with the return of Syrian soldiers to the area, the status quo reverts to what it was before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, and the U.N. troops should return as well.
In its request, he said, Israel has actually asked the U.N. to increase its presence in the region, raising the number of troops stationed on both sides of the border from 1,000 to 1,200 or 1,300. In addition, he said, Israel has expressed interest in reopening the Kuneitra Crossing, which was used for commercial traffic, such as shipments of Golan apples to markets in Syria.
The U.N. force on the Golan has been in place since the conclusion of a separation of powers between Israel and Syria in 1974. The force, known as UNDORF, is supposed to be stationed on both sides of the border, maintaining a neutral zone that bans all armed soldiers from either Israel or Syria. Four years ago, as the civil war heated up and in the wake of attacks on them, the U.N. forces left their posts on the Syrian side of the border, moving to the Israeli side. Since then, the U.N. forces have been monitoring Israeli troop movements, ignoring events on the other side of the border.