Trump's tweet on Golan inflames regional tensions

A photo taken on March 11 showing (from left) US Senator Lindsey Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visiting the border line between Syria and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Mr Netanyahu y
A photo taken on March 11 showing (from left) US Senator Lindsey Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visiting the border line between Syria and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Mr Netanyahu yesterday welcomed US President Donald Trump's pledge to recognise Israel's disputed annexation of the Golan Heights.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US President's move to recognise Israeli sovereignty over area marks shift in policy

BEIRUT • Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies slammed US President Donald Trump's call to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights yesterday, inflaming regional tensions at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to curtail Iran's expanding influence.

The European Union also said that it does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

"The position of the EU has not changed," an EU spokesman told Reuters. "The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, including the Golan Heights and does not consider them to be part of Israel's territory."

The Gulf Cooperation Council regional group of six Arab monarchies expressed regret at Mr Trump's call, saying it "will not change the reality that... the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967".

Mr Trump's push to assert Israel's ownership of the strategic heights along the Syrian-Israeli border, conveyed in a tweet on Thursday, marked a major shift in US policy and has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But it also raised concerns that confrontations along the ceasefire line could escalate.

Syria has made no military effort to regain the Golan since two-thirds of it was seized by Israel during the 1967 war, and its army is no match for Israel's superior military capabilities.

In the 1990s and later in the late 2000s, Damascus engaged in peace talks with Israel, backed by the US, to secure the return of the territory.

The Syrian war, however, has brought Iranian military advisers and Iranian-backed militias such as Lebanon's Hizbollah into the part of the Golan Heights that remains under Syrian control, and they have on a number of occasions fired rockets into Israel, triggering retaliatory strikes.

Syria called the assertion of Israeli sovereignty "irresponsible", saying it revealed America's "mentality of hegemony and arrogance".

"The statements of the American President and his administration... will never change the fact that the Golan was and will remain part of Arab Syria and that the Syrian people are more resolute and determined to liberate this precious patch of Syrian national territory by all available means," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said Mr Trump's assertion was "illegal and unacceptable" and does not change the fact that the Golan "belongs to Syria".

 
 
 

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the move violated United Nations resolutions which call for the restoration of the territory to Syria.

The US assertion of Israeli claims will give Teheran a propaganda boost at a time when the Trump administration is pressing allies in the region to join efforts to roll back Iranian influence.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut yesterday morning on a visit aimed at urging Lebanese leaders to take action to limit Hizbollah's growing prominence in the Lebanese government.

His message may be blunted, however, by the fury over Mr Trump's Golan tweet, which has also raised fears of a similar US shift on the status of the Palestinian territories.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Trump's tweet on Golan inflames regional tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe