Republican Senator Lindsey Graham plans to work toward American recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel, he said Monday as he toured the area with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
"Working with Senator [Ted] Cruz, I will start an effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel now and forever," Graham said.
"Israel occupied this territory by fighting for its survival," the senator added. This territory was taken by military force becasue it was used as a launching point to attack the State of Israel. This territory has a rich Jewish history."
Graham also asked to whom the stretch of territory would be returned if Israel were to give it up. "Who do you give it back to, Assad?" Senator Graham said, noting that Iran and Russia are deeply invested in the territory. "Russia? I believe not."
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Graham said he would speak to President Donald Trump on the matter of recognizing the territory as Israeli.
On the subject of the Syrian conflict, Graham said, "I want everyone to know there is no solution to Syria but Russia," though he noted that he is not a "Putin fan."
He said that his vision for Syria is to return it to the "Syrian people," and to allow them to rebuild the country. The entrenchment of Iran and its Hezbollah allies in Syria is an obstacle to that goal: "Iran must go. Hezbollah must go."
Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel has since effectively annexed the territory, which is populated largely by Druze communities. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, but the ongoing conflict in Syria has complicated the matter of ownership. Assad-aligned forces, including Hezbollah and Iran-backed militias, regularly clash with rebel forces on the Syrian side of the de-facto border. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force oversees the ceasefire line.
Graham is a vocal ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, despite disagreeing with the president on several key foreign policy issues, including the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. The senator is an influential voice on national security policy who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.