JERUSALEM – An influential U.S. senator allied to President Donald Trump toured the occupied Golan Heights on Monday and vowed to work to have Washington recognize Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.
Lindsey Graham’s pledge was a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who toured the Golan with him, ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.
Netanyahu has been pushing for the United States and other countries to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel later annexed the 1,200 sq. km (460 sq. miles) it seized, in a move never recognized by the international community.
“Strategically, I am standing on one of the most important pieces of ground in the state of Israel, and who would you give it back to?” Graham asked, standing alongside Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
“You’re going to give it to Assad? I think not. You might as well give it to Iran,” Graham said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia.
“You’re going to give it to Russia? I think not. So, the idea of this territory going to somebody else is off the table.”
Graham is a Washington ally of Trump, who has given strong backing to Netanyahu, and said he would work to have the United States recognize the Golan as part of Israel “now and forever.
In November, the United States voted for the first time against an annual U.N. resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of the Golan.
Netanyahu has argued in his re-election campaign that his close relationship with Trump is a major benefit to Israel.
Trump handed a huge victory to Israel in 2017 when he recognized Jerusalem as its capital and decided to move the U.S. Embassy to the disputed city despite Palestinian anger.