Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed John Bolton, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (NSA) to Jerusalem and impressed upon him – particularly in light of the announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria – about the need for Israel to maintain sovereignty over its part of the Golan Heights.
“When you’re there, you’ll understand why we’ll never leave the Golan Heights, and why it’s important for all countries to recognize Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told Bolton during a joint press conference on Sunday.
Prime Minister Netanyahu met this evening with US National Security Adviser @AmbJohnBolton.
“Your visit to Israel gives us an opportunity to do two things. First, it gives us an opportunity to thank the Trump administration for the extraordinary support you’ve shown Israel. pic.twitter.com/3MINGNd02X
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 6, 2019
Israel has held its section of the Golan Heights since the 1967 Six Day War. In 1981, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin annexed the area, during which the Golan Heights law was passed. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Israel approached Syria, under the dictatorship of Hafez al-Assad and then following his death in 2000, his son, and current dictator, Bashar al-Assad, with an offer for full peace (only an armistice was signed to conclude the fighting in the Yom Kippur War in 1973) and a return of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Assad the father, refused the initial offer and since 2011, when the Syrian Civil War broke out and then extended beyond to include international players, Israel’s control over it’s part of the Golan Heights has been crucial in preventing Iranian proxies and foreign fighters gaining a foothold there.
Netanyahu has been outspoken about Israel’s opposition to the Iranian military presence in Syria and has backed it up with action; the IDF has flown well in excess of 200 missions to bomb targets in the country.
In October, the prime minister said, “Israel on the Golan Heights is a solid reality based on ancient rights. Israel on the Golan Heights is a fact that the international community must recognize and as long as it depends on me the Golan Heights will always remain under Israeli sovereignty because otherwise we would have Iran and Hezbollah on the shores of the Kinneret,” according to i24 news.
Israel only holds approximately 7% of the Golan Heights, with the rest belonging to Syria. Israel’s tallest peak, Mt. Hermon – which rises to 2,228m above sea level – is one of the lowest in the Golan Heights range. However, it is strategically crucial for Israel to maintain control of this area, if there is not to be a return to the situation in the 1950s and 1960s, when Syrian artillery would pepper, almost daily, Israeli farmers and communities working and living in areas such as the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys.