Relevance:President Donald Trump abruptly declared that the U.S. will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, a major shift in American policy that gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political boost a month before what is expected to be a close election.
- The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when Israel captured most of the area in the Six Day War, occupying it and annexing it in 1981.
- That unilateral annexation was not recognised internationally, and Syria demands the return of the territory.
- Syria tried to regain the Heights in the 1973 Middle East war but was thwarted.
- Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.
- In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement.
- But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks also failed.
Why does Israel want the Golan?
Israel says that the civil war in Syria demonstrates the need to keep the plateau as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the instability of its neighbour.Israel says it also fears that Iran, an ally of Syria’s Assad, is seeking to establish itself permanently on the Syrian side of the border in order to launch attacks on Israel.The area is a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.
The land is fertile, with the volcanic soil being used to cultivate vineyards and orchards and to raise cattle.
About Golan Heights:
- More than 40,000 people live on the Israeli-occupied Golan, more than half of them Druze residents.
- The Druze are an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam and many of its adherents in Syria have long been loyal to the Assad regime.
- After annexing the Golan, Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship, but most rejected it and still identify as Syrian.
- About another 20,000 Israeli settlers also live there, many of them working in farming and tourism.
- Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, there was an uneasy stand-off between Israeli and Syrian forces loyal to Assad.
- But in 2014 anti-government Islamist rebels overran Quneitra province on the Syrian side.
- The rebels forced Assad’s forces to withdraw and also turned on US forces in the area, forcing them to pull back from some of their positions.
- The area remained under rebel control until the summer of 2018, when Assad’s forces returned to the largely ruined city of Quneitra and the surrounding area following a Russian-backed offensive and a deal that allowed rebels to withdraw.