Intel: Why the US is warming to Israel’s hold on the Golan Heights


Departing US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley will switch up one annual tradition at the world body before she leaves her post, voting “no” on a resolution that calls on Israel to leave the occupied Golan Heights. In the past, the United States has simply abstained.

Why it matters: The Donald Trump administration has given Israel significant deference since taking office, including moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which past presidents promised but never delivered.

But the move is also an effort to cue up a regional policy to quell the fallout from the destructive Syrian civil war. The United States is sending a signal that it’s not willing to help broker a deal on the Golan as long as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hosts Iranian proxy groups in the war-torn country. Israel has tried to knock out Iranian ballistic missile sites that pose a cross-border threat.

“The resolution is plainly biased against Israel,” Haley said in a statement. “Further, the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone. The destructive influence of the Iranian regime inside Syria presents major threats to international security.”

Background: Israel took two-thirds of the Golan Heights after defeating Syria and other Arab rivals in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the territory more than a decade later. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will not withdraw from the occupied areas.

Former President Barack Obama resisted Netanyahu’s calls for US endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, but Washington now appears more amenable to the claim. In September, US Ambassador David Friedman said he expected Israel to hold on to the Golan in perpetuity, though Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said there would be no change in the US position for now.

What’s next: Geir Pedersen is taking over as the UN official leading the ill-fated Geneva talks that seek to set up elections and reunify the country. “My job is to ensure the Assad regime goes nowhere” until a political process begins, US envoy for Syria engagement James Jeffrey said at a conference in Washington on Thursday.

Know more: Pentagon correspondent Jack Detsch has the latest on the fight against the Islamic State in the northeast, the main focus of 2,200 US troops engaged in Syria’s war.

- Jack Detsch

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