Congress is renewing efforts to press the Trump administration into recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region on Israel’s northern border with Syria, bucking efforts by GOP leadership to kill the effort, according to conversations with lawmakers.
The House’s National Security Subcommittee, led by chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine how recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the territory could bolster U.S. national security efforts to stem the flow of terrorists in the Jewish state and elsewhere in the region by giving the Jewish state unilateral control over the Syrian territory, where Iranian-backed fighters and other jihadists have been spotted since the start of a bloody civil war.
The push to have the Trump administration formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territory comes following a Monday afternoon press conference between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladamir Putin, where the two leaders discussed efforts to decrease tension in Syria.
When DeSantis and other Republicans pushed a congressional resolution recognizing Israeli control over the Golan Heights in May, it was nixed by GOP leadership who were seeking to prevent such a vote on the heels of the Trump administration’s successful effort to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The resolution had won support from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and others.
DeSantis expressed disappointment at the time in comments to the Free Beacon.
“I don’t know why my Golan Heights amendment was not made in order and thus denied a vote,” DeSantis said. “It was a germane amendment that would have provided the House with a chance to add clarity to the broader U.S. policy vis-a-vis Syria. How could we even contemplate supporting anything other than the application of Israeli sovereignty to such a strategically significant area, especially given the plethora of malevolent forces that undermine security in the region?”
DeSantis, who will chair Tuesday’s hearing, told the Washington Free Beacon he will not stand down despite opposition by some to formally recognizing Israeli control over the territory, which Israel annexed in 1981.
“U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights is overdue and I hope this hearing demonstrates that the time is right for the Trump administration to do so,” DeSantis told the Free Beacon. “As we’ve seen with the successful relocation of our American embassy to Jerusalem, when the U.S. leads with purpose and conviction good things happen.”
The United States has declined for decades to take a position on the status of this territory, but lawmakers such as DeSantis argue the time is right for this effort, particularly in light of the chaos in Syria and the threat it poses to Israeli and U.S. security assets in the region.
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have supported such efforts and also have requested the Trump administration move to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory. Public calls for the recognition increased after the Free Beacon first reported on the now-dead congressional resolution on the matter.
The Tuesday hearing will focus on Iran’s destabilizing efforts in Syria and how it has impacted regional security, according to information viewed by the Free Beacon.
Congressional officials and other supporters argue that U.S. recognition of Israeli control of the Golan Heights could thwart Russia and Iran’s growing influence in Syria and also send a powerful message that the United States sides with the Jewish state’s security interests as regional tensions grow.
The United States, under numerous governments, has assured the Israeli government that it supports Israel’s annexation of the territory, but has declined to go as far as backing a full recognition of sovereignty. The area remains a key territory that could help Israel defend itself from attacks by Iranian forces and others operating in Syria, supporters argue.
Iranian militants who are still operating freely in Syria as they defend embattled President Bashar al-Assad have used the Golan Heights and areas near it to target Israel.
In February, for instance, Israel intercepted an armed Iranian drone that had entered its airspace via Syria.
In May, Iranian forces in Syria fired at least 20 rockets at Israeli military personnel stationed in the Golan Heights, leading the Trump White House to issue public statements supporting Israel’s right to self-defense in the face of such attacks.
Witnesses testifying at the Tuesday hearing include Dore Gold, a veteran Israeli official who most recently served as director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2015 to 2016; Michael Doran, a former senior director of the White House’s the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration; Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America; and Eugene Kontorovich, a Northwestern University professor of law who has studied Israel’s legal claims to the Golan Heights.