U.S. President Donald Trump has once again taken a move disrupting international order by officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a region seized from Syria in 1967 during the Third Arab-Israeli War.
Given that international society does not accept Israeli sovereignty over the area, Trump's move stands as a breach of trust, second to his recognition last year of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his transfer of the U.S. Embassy to the city.
The Golan Heights is located in southwest Syria, and is a strategic military stronghold, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a source of water for Israel.
After Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, the U.N. Security Council requested that the country pull out and return the territory. And when Israel annexed the region in 1981, the council passed a resolution stating that Israel's move to impose its administration over the area was "null and void and without international legal effect." This was because the move went against the principles of international society, which do not permit the expansion of territory through force.
President Trump, however, is now trampling on that position.
Forming a backdrop to the president's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is the military tension in the area. Since last year, Iran-backed armed insurgents that both the United States and Israel view as hostile have spread out on the Syrian side and have started to clash with Israeli troops. Because of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have lobbied the United States to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
A noteworthy point here is that Netanyahu is underscoring his close relationship with Trump as a diplomatic success as Israel prepares for a general election on April 9. In the meantime, Netanyahu faces the threat of indictment over corruption allegations, and the ruling party has been left on the back foot.
Trump himself faces presidential elections next year, and he apparently wants to solidify his support base, which includes pro-Israel evangelicals. He probably calculated that policies siding with Israel would end up winning him votes.
It is absolutely unthinkable, however, to turn one's back on a U.N. resolution due to internal political circumstances. Paragraph 4 of Article 2 of the U.N. Charter states that all members "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Permitting acquisition of territory through force equates to denial of the international order established after World War II.
If one were to apply Trump's logic, then Russia's annexation of Crimea would also be permitted.
The U.S. decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights has naturally drawn the ire of Syria, as well as that of other Arab countries and Iran. We are apprehensive of an escalation of tensions around the Golan Heights.