(CNSNews.com) – Confirming President Trump’s tweet about recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday night recalled a key tank battle on the strategic plateau in 1973, and said the president had “made the decision to recognize that that hard-fought real estate” should fall under Israeli sovereignty.
Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Pompeo – a former U.S. Army captain – remembered as a cadet studying an Israel-Syria clash during the Yom Kippur War known as the “Battle of the Valley of Tears.”
“It was Israeli heroism at its most amazing, saving this great nation at a time of enormous challenge, a threat that came from east of the Golan, from Syria – a tank battle of epic and historic proportion, of amazing Israeli bravery.”
“Tonight, President Trump made the decision to recognize that that hard-fought real estate, that important place, is proper to be a sovereign part of the State of Israel,” Pompeo said.
“It will truly be historic,” he added of the decision, “and the people of Israel should know that the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy and meaningful and important for all time.”
Netanyahu, who spoke earlier by phone with Trump, said the president’s decision was “of equal historic importance” to other recent decisions he had taken, such as moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and exiting the Iran nuclear deal.
“He recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he did so at a time when Iran is trying to use Syria as a platform to attack and destroy Israel,” Netanyahu said. “And the message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”
The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, and early reactions to the significant policy shift reflected that.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quick to call the decision “irrelevant and illegal.”
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that “attempts by the U.S. to legitimize Israel’s actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region,” adding that Turkey “supports Syria’s territorial integrity.”
There was no immediate response from the Assad regime, although its diplomat in Geneva complained at the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this week that Israeli has “escalated its attempts to consecrate its occupation of the Golan and have its illegal decision to annex it be acknowledged.”
The Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, and U.N. General Assembly are all expected to weight in in the coming days.
U.N. bodies regularly adopt resolutions on the “occupied Syrian Golan,” and have continued doing so even since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, passing by large margins resolutions that imply the inhabitants of the Golan would fare better under the Assad regime than under Israeli administration.
Late last year the U.S. for the first time in more than two decades shifted from abstaining to opposing such resolutions.
Israel captured the plateau during the 1967 Six Day War, before which it had been used by the Syrians as a launching-pad for attacks on Israeli communities in the Hula and Galilee valleys below.
Six years later, Syria joined Egypt in launching a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It was during that costly war that the battle cited by Pompeo took place.
Unlike the West Bank and Gaza, also captured in 1967, Israel would go on to annex the Golan, in 1981. Opinion polls have long found strong support for retaining it, from Israelis across the political spectrum.
The ridge has now been under Israeli control for more than twice as long as it was under Syria – 52 years, compared to the 21 years it fell within the borders of Syria prior to 1967.
(Before Syria’s formal independence in 1946, the Golan was part of a French mandate, having been ceded to France by Britain in 1923. Prior to World War I the area fell under the Ottoman Empire.)
Testifying before the House Oversight subcommittee on national security last summer, Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Doran called for a recognition of “reality” regarding the Golan.
While under Syrian control, he said, “literally thousands of clashes” occurred between Syria and Israel.
But from the time Israel captured the Golan in 1967 until the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, it had served as a natural barrier between the two sides, he said.
If the Heights are to continue being a “reliable buffer” Doran argued, “we must leave them in the hands of the Israelis.”
A bill introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last month, “[c]larifying that it is United States policy to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” has seven Republican co-sponsors, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).