Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is facing felony fraud and corruption indictments and refuses to resign, confident that he'll be able to form a government again after elections next month. He effectively needs a miracle or a short, victorious war to stay in power, and Thursday he got a huge boost to that second prospect with tacit permission from Donald Trump to blast the Golan Heights to ashes.
President Donald Trump’s tweet on Thursday recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory surprised members of his own Middle East peace team, the State Department, and Israeli officials.
U.S. diplomats and White House aides had believed the Golan Heights issue would be front and center at next week’s meetings between Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. But they were unprepared for any presidential announcement this week.
No formal U.S. process or executive committees were initiated to review the policy before Trump’s decision, and the diplomats responsible for implementing the policy were left in the dark.
Even the Israelis, who have advocated for this move for years, were stunned at the timing of Trump’s message.
“We all found out by tweet,” one Israeli official said. “We’ve been lobbying for this for a long time, but it was not the product of one phone call. There were hints, but we weren’t given advance notice.”
A second Israeli source said that the top-most Israeli leadership was given a heads-up shortly before Trump tweeted the decision, similar to how they were informed of the president’s decision in December to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
One U.S. diplomatic source told McClatchy there were “intimations” of a coming policy shift, citing the administration’s decision over a period of months to phase out the use of modifiers such as “occupied” in reference to the Golan Heights in government reports. But, “we weren’t prepared as a department,” the source said. “Usually there’s prep for a rollout and policy briefs on the consequences, but there was none of that.”
Washington has recognized the Golan as Syrian territory under Israeli occupation since the 1970s, subject to a negotiated settlement between the two nations still technically at war.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.
The wording of Trump’s tweet likely falls short of a formal, declarative recognition, according to Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under former President Barack Obama. But little more than a statement from the president or secretary of state is necessary to secure the major U.S. policy shift.
The White House is mulling several ways to formalize the policy decision, including a potential executive order signing ceremony on Monday with Netanyahu present.
And then Bibi rolls in the tanks and blasts his way to another term. You'd better believe Trump will be using the same playbook in Venezuela sooner rather than later.