Trump’s Golan Decision Is Moral and Strategic
The vicious regime in Syria shouldn’t be rewarded for trying to conquer Israel in 1967.
By U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
March 25, 2019
President Trump’s tweeted last week that the U.S. will formally recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The decision is strategically wise and morally important.
Israel secured the Golan Heights in 1967 after the Six Day War, a defensive conflict Israel fought in response to attacks from Syria and other Arab nations. Since then, the Golan has been a critical part of Israel’s defenses.
I witnessed that dynamic two weeks ago as I stood atop the Golan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. With Syria, ravaged by civil war, at our backs, we talked about the Golan’s strategic importance as high ground bordering an unfriendly nation. Before the Six Day War, Syria used the Golan to shell Israeli towns, villages and farms in the Galilee indiscriminately. Those dark days ended with Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.
Any thought of returning the Golan to the aggressor—Syria and the butcher of Damascus, Bashar Assad—would be disastrous for Israel, morally wrong and strategically dangerous.
Rewarding Syria for attacking Israel in 1967 and again in 1973 would dramatically change the cost-benefit calculations of other expansionist dictators. When a state decides whether to invade a neighbor, it has to take account of the risk that it will lose land instead of gaining it. If the Golan Heights are returned, it tells invaders that territory they lose will eventually be given back. That would unburden aggressors from much of the risk involved in starting wars—a recipe for more aggression.
Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan also sends an unequivocal message of condemnation of the Assad regime, which since 2011 has conducted a horrific campaign against Syrian citizens, raining barrel bombs and chemical weapons down on unarmed civilians. For Mr. Assad and his henchmen not to pay a price for a conflict in which around 500,000 people have been killed and countless atrocities have been committed would again be immoral and dangerous. It sends a message to every dictator around the world that there is no penalty for murdering your own citizens en masse.
Another negative consequence of the Syrian civil war is the foothold Iran has gained in the country. Tehran and its proxies, especially the terror group Hezbollah, played a major role saving the Assad regime. Their presence in Syria opens a new front in their war against Israel. As the U.S. redeploys forces to Syria, it is important to demonstrate America’s determination to confront Iran, which seeks hegemony in the region. Recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan helps convey that the U.S. stands with Israel and won’t pressure Jerusalem to take steps that would undermine its own security.
Mr. Trump has been one of the most effective American leaders in strengthening the country’s relationship with Israel. His decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel should prove yet another major, lasting achievement for his administration.
Unfortunately, there exists the possibility that Mr. Trump’s decision could be undone by a future president who is a friend to Syria or a foe of Israel. To guard against that possibility, Congress should immediately vote on the legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Mike Gallagher, putting both chambers on record in support of the Trump policy on the Golan.
Mr. Graham, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from South Carolina.