Wicker says U.S. correct in recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

Published 10:41 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

Thousands of Mississippians have visited the Holy Land and the Sea of Galilee — home of the earliest Christian ministries. Rising above the Sea are the Golan Heights, known for their beauty, history, and a decades-long conflict between Israel and Syria.

Before Israel took control of the Golan from Syria in 1967, Israelis living nearby were bombarded by the Syrian army. Israelis near Gaza continue to experience similar violence at the hands of Hamas, a fact we were reminded of in recent weeks when rockets hit civilian homes. I discussed these attacks recently with Mississippians in Washington for the annual AIPAC Conference.

Syrian shelling stopped when Israel took control of the Golan after waging a six-day, defensive war in 1967. In 1973, Syria tried unsuccessfully to retake what it lost by launching a surprise attack during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The area has prospered during the 52 years of Israeli control. However, until recently, the U.S. did not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. This left the future of the territory uncertain and left the door open for possible Syrian control.

On March 25, President Trump granted recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan. This is a positive and overdue change. Congress should follow the President’s lead by passing S. 567, a bill I cosponsored making recognition permanent and ensuring U.S. laws relating to Israel include the Golan Heights.

Why Recognition is Necessary

Congressional recognition would bolster our ally. It would also give certainty to residents, religious pilgrims, tourists, and local joint American-Israeli scientific, industrial, and agricultural projects that the future of the area is Israeli, not Syrian.

Even before the current civil war in Syria, U.S. policymakers understood Israel’s security needs in the territory. In 1975, President Ford stated that “any peace agreement with Syria must be predicated on Israel remaining on the Golan Heights.” In 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration reiterated that assurance.

Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt give me hope that the Jewish State will one day live in harmony with its Arab neighbors. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alliances with Iran and Hezbollah and murder of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens demonstrate he cannot be rewarded with control over the Golan Heights. That would bring violent extremism to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and give Israel’s most determined enemies a strategic outpost in their war against the Jewish State.

Recognition is Consistent with U.S. Policy

Opponents of the President’s actions warn that recognition would endanger a future peace deal between Syria and Israel, despite Assad’s cruelty and Iranian aggression. These warnings bring to mind previous concerns about potential violence when the U.S. moved our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

As a freshman member of Congress in 1995, I voted for the bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act. That act called for our embassy to be moved and established that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city” and “the capital of the State of Israel.” This, despite the fact that Israel gained control of the eastern half of the city in the same 1967 war that gave it the Golan. When President Trump made good on Congress’s promise, the predicted outbreak of violence in response never happened. In fact, many Arab countries continue to partner closely with Israel.
Our interests and values demand that we also do so.