- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2019

President Trump on Monday formally recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a much-needed boost as he raced home to respond to a rocket attack that struck near Tel Aviv, wounding seven.

Mr. Trump’s proclamation reversed about a half-century of U.S. policy, which viewed the Golan Heights as Syrian territory occupied by Israel.

“This was a long time in the making, it should have taken place many decades ago,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the papers inside the White House.

Monday’s abbreviated summit underscored the close partnership between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, who faces re-election next month under the specter of corruption charges back home.

The prime minister had been scheduled to dine with the president Tuesday and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, but cut that schedule short to return home to deal with the aftermath of the missile attack launched from Gaza, a Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave.

Before taking off, Mr. Netanyahu praised Mr. Trump as Israeli’s steadfast partner, citing his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

“You have never flinched, you have always been there,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

The brief visit also gave Mr. Trump a chance to bolster his standing among his conservative base, which prizes U.S.-Israeli relations, and reissue his hardline stance on Iran.

Mr. Netanyahu said Iran-backed Hezbollah has been intervening in the Golan Heights, which overlook Israel and were seized by the Jewish state in the 1967 Six-Day War with its several Arab neighbors.

Mr. Trump said the U.S. will not avert its eyes to an Iranian “dictatorship” that “chants ‘death to America, death to Israel.’”

“We won’t let them even consider that,” he said.

Amnesty International USA called the president’s proclamation an “irresponsible” and “reckless” move that appeared to skirt international law and would bring the region no closer to peace.

“Such announcements — like the administration’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — will only make the human rights crisis in the region worse,” said Philippe Nassif, Middle East advocacy director at Amnesty International USA. “Trump must understand that a just and sustainable peace requires full respect for international law and human rights.”

Mr. Trump says Israel must assert control of the Golan Heights to prevent Iran-backed terrorist groups from using it to launch attacks like the one that struck Monday.

The president offered his condolences to Israel over the attack, noting children were among the wounded.

“Our prayers are with our friend in Israel as they carry out an incredible way of life in the face of great terror,” said Mr. Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other dignitaries.

Mr. Netanyahu said his military is devising plans to retaliate, and that his early departure would allow him to “direct our actions close-hand.”

The president also vowed to combat the “poison of anti-Semitism,” after a controversy over a freshman House Democrat’s tweets about Israel’s influence in U.S. political circles.

Benny Gantz, Mr. Netanyahu’s political foe, angled for the upper hand on national security during his own stop in the U.S.

“Those that seek life are always stronger than those seeking death and I’m telling you, the leaders of Hamas, you will not change that,” he said at AIPAC.

⦁ Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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