Donald Trump once again overturned decades of U.S. policy via Twitter when he declared on Thursday that the United States should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a disputed territory Israel seized in the 1967 war with Syria. The area, he wrote, is “of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
The timing of the announcement, ahead of Israeli elections on April 9, drew immediate accusations that it was aimed to benefit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a competitive campaign as well as a looming indictment over alleged corruption. Following the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem last May, this was the second time that Trump reversed long-standing U.S. positions on Israel, appearing to offer a major gift to the Israeli prime minister without any obvious concessions in return. Yet the push for Trump to make such a move has been going on for more than a year, due to parallel efforts by Israeli officials and members of Congress.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was already drafting a plan to reinforce Israel’s control over the territory, which it effectively annexed in 1981, last summer. The rationale at the time had less to do with Israeli politics than with Iran, which was consolidating strength in Syria via its proxy Hezbollah and directly threatening Israel’s borders. The issue was also being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the National Security Council, according to Mark Dubowitz, who co-wrote a February 2017 op-ed calling for the Golan recognition and was engaged in the discussions. The National Security Council would not comment on internal discussions, and the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.