Netanyahu urges Obama to ‘think different’ on Golan Heights annexation

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu © Jason Reed
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly seeking US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights due to the Syrian conflict. Netanyahu allegedly wanted a “different thinking” regarding the issue during talks with Barack Obama.

The possibility of the Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981 being recognized was raised during Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Obama, according to Haaretz sources close to the discussions. The publication mentioned that Netanyahu believes the absence of a functioning Syrian government “allows for different thinking” concerning the future status of the strategically important area.

Netanyahu also reportedly said he was doubtful that peace talks taking place in Vienna between the world powers and various Syrian fractions involved in the war would result in peace. During the meeting, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s red lines in regards to Syria.

"We won't tolerate attacks from Syrian territory, we won't allow Iran to open a front [against us] on the Golan Heights, and we will disrupt the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon," Netanyahu told the president.

President Obama did not respond to the proposal from Netanyahu, while the Israeli prime minister failed to elaborate on the issue with reporters.

At a press conference following the meeting, Netanyahu mentioned any international deal regarding Syria would have to “take into account Israel’s interests.”

Speaking later in the day at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel will do everything to prevent Iran from using Syrian territory to threaten Israel.

“The defense of Israel is what concerns me in Syria first and foremost, and on that we'll continue to act forcefully,” Netanyahu said.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after the 1967 Six-Day War, which created an armistice line under Israeli military control. Syria unsuccessfully tried to retake the Golan Heights during the 1973 War. An armistice was concluded in 1974 resulting in a UN observer force being deployed along the ceasefire line.

In 1981 Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights, a move that is not recognized internationally. Over the last three and a half decades, Israel has built more than 30 Jewish settlements in the area. Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Israel has carried out a number of military operations as fighting reached the Golan ceasefire lines.

As the armed struggle in Syria continues, a few high ranking officials in Israel have recently voiced the need to gain full international recognition of Israel’s claims to the Golan Heights.

Netanyahu’s former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, earlier this week, urged Netanyahu “to ask for American recognition of full Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights through a presidential declaration and accompanying letter,” the Times of Israel states.

“Syria as we knew it has ceased to exist,” Oren claimed, stressing that Israeli recognition would result in the “stabilization and rehabilitation of the area.”

In July, Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser also urged the Israelis to seize the “historic opportunity” and seek international recognition of its presence on the Golan.

“Forty years on, in light of Syria’s collapse, Islamic State’s takeover of huge areas in the Middle East and the ‘rotten compromise’ expected with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the achievement that Israel needs and can attain is to update the international stance, and ratify and upgrade the US stance on the Golan,” Hauser wrote in an article published in Haaretz.