TEL AVIV – The U.S. may formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters, Katz said the Trump administration’s acknowledgement of Israel’s claim to territory was “topping the agenda” in bilateral talks between the two countries.
According to Katz, such a move would be seen as the next step following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the opening of a new U.S. embassy there last week.
The White House had no immediate comment on Katz’s remarks.
“This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognize Israel’s Golan sovereignty – with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined (in law),” Katz said.
The message to Iran, he added, would be: “You want to destroy (U.S. ally Israel) to generate attacks (against it)? Look, you got exactly the opposite.”
The Golan Heights was part of Syria until Israel captured it in the 1967 defensive war. In 1981, Israel annexed the territory in a move not recognized by the international community. The area, some 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles), is considered critical to Israel’s security, especially in light of the brutal Syrian civil war and the threat from Iran.
Formal recognition is being discussed at various levels of the U.S. administration and Congress, Katz said.
“I reckon there is great ripeness and a high probability this will happen,” he said. Asked if such a decision could be made this year, he added, “Yes, give or take a few months.”
According to Reuters, Katz suggested that recognition of the Golan could also push the Palestinians to resume peace talks.
Last week, Florida Republican and House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ron DeSantis introduced a proposal in the House of Representatives to see the Golan Heights recognized by the U.S.
Likud MK Yoav Kisch urged U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to press his government to go ahead with the move.
“In 1981, Israel declared sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Kisch wrote in the letter obtained by the Jerusalem Post. “The Golan Heights has since developed and became an inseparable part of Israel. We believe that an official American recognition of the Golan Heights as a sovereign Israeli territory would be a natural continuation of the current U.S. policy in our region.”