Israel will keep Golan Heights, says Bennett

PM's remarks come as US remains circumspect on area's legal status

Israel will keep the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967, even if international views on Damascus change, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday.

In 2019, then US president Donald Trump broke with other world powers by recognising Israel has having sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it formally annexed in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.

Mr Bennett's remarks come as the US government remains circumspect on the area's legal status and some of its Arab allies warm towards Syrian President Bashar Al Assad after the country's decade-old civil war.

Addressing a conference about the Golan Heights' future, Mr Bennett said the internal Syrian strife had “persuaded many in the world that perhaps it is preferable that this beautiful and strategic territory be in the state of Israel's hands.

“But even in a situation in which — as could happen — the world changes tack on Syria, or in relation to Assad, this has no bearing on the Golan Heights,” he told the forum hosted by the conservative Makor Rishon newspaper.

“The Golan Heights is Israeli, full stop.”

Mr Bennet said Iran was sending fighters and militias to areas close to Israeli borders.

“We will continue to act wherever and whenever necessary, at our initiative, to reduce Iranian presence in Syria,” he said on his Twitter feed.

“Their adventure on our northern border needs to end.”

ASSAD'S GRIP ON POWER

The extension of Assad's two-decade-old presidency in a May election did little to break his pariah status in the West, but fellow Arab leaders are coming to terms with the fact he retains a solid grip on power.

Geopolitical considerations contributing to their recalculation include calls by Assad backer Russia for Syria's reintegration, Washington's more hands-off regional approach and Arab hopes of countering Iranian and Turkish clout in Damascus.

While not changing the policy, President Joe Biden's administration has been circumspect on the Golan issue, describing Israel's hold in de facto rather than de jure terms.

Asked in a February interview if Washington would continue to deem the Golan Heights part of Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signalled openness to an eventual policy review on a territory most countries consider to be under occupation.

“As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran … the control of the Golan in that situation, I think, remains of real important to Israel's security,” he told CNN.

“Legal questions are something else. And, over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that's something we'd look at.”

Updated: October 11th 2021, 1:46 PM
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