WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump denied Thursday that his tweet on it being time to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was an attempt to intervene in the upcoming Israeli election on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump said in an interview with the Fox Business Network. “I hear he [Netanyahu] is doing OK.” He added that “whoever’s against him is also in favor of what I just did.”
It was the first time that Trump had explicitly denied he is helping Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, which has been endangered by several corruption investigations involving the prime minister and his closest aides.
Numerous reports in both the U.S. and Israeli media have described Trump’s tweet, coming less than three weeks before the election, as a political gift to Netanyahu.
David Axelrod, the former campaign manager of Trump’s predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, wrote that Trump was throwing Netanyahu “a life preserver” ahead of the election.
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, described the entire decision as driven by politics: “Trump's move is pure and unadulterated domestic politics — helping Netanyahu get re-elected is great for Trump's politics; but it's not a compelling U.S. national interest,” he wrote.
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The White House on Thursday distributed quotes by Republican senators, Jewish organizations and right-wing journalists supporting Trump’s statement. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who recently visited Israel and toured the Golan Heights area with Netanyahu, said: “President Trump’s decision to recognize the Golan as part of Israel is strategically wise and overall awesome. Well done, Mr. President.”
Sen. Marco Rubio said: “If Assad got ahold of Golan, Iran and Hezbollah would operate against Israel from there. Israel needs that buffer to be permanent.”
The American Jewish Committee, meanwhile, said: “We welcome President Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which acknowledges the history of the region and the facts on the ground. The events in Syria have proven that the entire region is safer with Israel in control of this territory.”
Trump said last month that Netanyahu "has done a great job as prime minister" and called him "tough, smart, strong."
Also last month, Trump took to Instagram to share an image posted by Netanyahu of a campaign billboard showing the president and prime minister shaking hands. The billboard reads: "Netanyahu. In Another League," and is just one instance of Netanyahu boasting of his connection with Trump as part of his election campaign.