Senate and House introduce bills recognizing Israeli control of Golan Heights

By Laura Kelly

A bill certifying U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights was introduced Tuesday by Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) with an identical proposal filed in the House by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI).

The bill changes long-standing U.S. policy that any decision on control over the Golan Heights would occur in a peace deal between Israel and Syria. The Republican Senators, instead, say that Israeli control of the area is in the national security interest of the U.S. and is a punishment to Syrian President Bashar al Assad for war crimes in that country. 

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). On the House side, at least 13 republican representatives joined Mr. Gallagher in his effort. 

New language in the proposed legislation also combats attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.

For example, U.S. policy will “promote and conduct joint projects with Israel on the Golan Heights, including projects – in basic and applied scientific fields; in industrial research and development; and in strategic and applied research of agricultural problems.”

Further, any money assigned from congress towards Israel, “including customs and international trade” will include the Golan Heights.

Israel took control of the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day-War and further solidified its hold on the territory six years later during the ‘73 war. While the United Nations refers to the area as “occupied,” the U.S. – since the Reagan Administration – has maintained the final status of the area would be decided in negotiations with Syria.

In December, the two Republican Senators sought to formally change U.S. policy, first introducing a resolution “encouraging” that the U.S. recognize Israeli control over the area and ensure its national security from attacks by Iran in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Israel’s northern border is threatened by Iranian forces and their proxies in Lebanon and Syria, including Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets, armed drones, newly discovered terror tunnels, and more,” the Senators said in a statement at the time.

“Meanwhile, with the Ayatollahs’ help, Bashar al Assad’s regime is on the verge of securing victory in Syria’s civil war. He may soon turn his attention back to threatening the Jewish state.”

Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Israel has increased military operations in the region, responding to errant missile fire coming across the border and stepping up targeting of Iranian targets. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country’s military would always act to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah.

In January, the two Senators reiterated their call after Netanyahu asked National Security Advisor John Bolton for the U.S. to recognize Israeli control over the Golan during a meeting in Jerusalem.

“Responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attacks,” Sens. Cruz and Cotton said in a statement. “To support Israel’s right to self defense, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

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