A Bold Move on the Golan Heights



President Donald Trump has had a dizzying week, even by his usual frenetic standards. Consider the following:

• Attorney General  William Barr released his summary of the key findings of the long-awaited report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller,  which Barr said found no evidence of collusion on the part of Trump campaign associates with Russia’s attempt to interfere with the 2016 elections. 

Barr’s summary indicated Mueller’s probe did not either blame or exonerate Trump and his associates of charges of obstruction of justice. The overall findings came as a tremendous relief to the Trump White House and as a deep disappointment to his political opponents, who vowed to press on with other investigations. 

But Trump’s boast that the report amounts to “complete and total exoneration” goes way too far; only the release of the full report will give both sides a solid basis for final conclusions, and the president’s troubles may be far from over as other legal proceedings continue.


•  The U.S. military command in the ISIS enclave in Syria announced that the last tiny segment of a once-vast “caliphate” had at last been defeated.  ISIS previously controlled a land mass equal to that of the state of Indiana; now it no longer has a base to train terrorist recruits or to threaten its neighbors with massive attacks.  

ISIS remains a dangerous threat, with increased activities by cells and allies in Africa, Asia and the Sinai, but its power has been severely limited.  Trump, with some justification, took a victory lap over this development, while critics noted that efforts against ISIS started under President Barack Obama.

• Most dramatically, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, on Monday Trump signed an executive order asserting U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the former Syrian territory of the Golan Heights.

The move has been hailed by the full political spectrum of Israeli leadership even in the midst of a hotly contested campaign in advance of the April 9 elections.  Netanyahu is facing stiff competition for re-election from Benny Gantz, a popular former Israel Defense Forces leader who heads the center-left Blue and White Party.

Why is the Golan Heights move so significant?  The bold step is similar in timing and import to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move of the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.  A proclamation issued by the White House on Monday, possibly previewing its long-awaited Mideast peace plan, said flatly: “Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats.”

The Golan Heights offers a commanding view of a vast territory—all of Syria and Lebanon as well as parts of Jordan.  The vicious and brutal regimes of Bashar Assad and his late father, Hafez Assad, used the Golan Heights as a strategic outpost from which Syrian soldiers fired at will at Israel settlers living near the base of the mountains.  

During both the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syrians massed tanks on the Heights, from which they launched unprovoked aggression against Israel.  In 1967, more Israel troops were killed or wounded in the taking of the Golan Heights than in the entire balance of the conflict. 

The Israeli Knesset has formally annexed only two territories captured during the Six-Day War:  Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Some 20,000 Israelis now live in the Golan Heights, which bustles with commercial and recreational activities.

During the tenure of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, strenuous efforts were made to achieve a land-for-peace deal, which would have returned the Golan Heights to Syrian control in exchange for Syrian recognition of Israel and its borders. While progress on the deal appeared possible at one point, Assad ultimately rejected any idea that recognized Israel.

No one should overlook the behavior of the Assad regime during its seven-year war in which several hundred thousand Syrians were killed, including those who died in chemical and barrel-bomb attacks, and over 11 million Syrians have been forced from their homes, overwhelming European nations with refugees. By any measure, Syria’s genocidal attacks on its own people means it no longer can rightly claim to be a legitimate member of the family of nations. 

The legal proceedings and investigations against the Trump administration may continue, but the president deserves credit for his major step in the Golan Heights, which has both symbolic and strategic importance.