An ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Sunday to recognize Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, saying Syria no longer functions as a country that could reclaim the strategic plateau.
The remarks by Education Minister Naftali Bennett appeared aimed at capitalizing on global debate over how to handle Syria's de facto break-up during a four-year-old insurgency, as well as at undermining support for Palestinian statehood on other land Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.
"I call on the international community: Stand with us, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights now," Bennett said in a speech to the Herzliya Conference, an annual Israeli policy forum. "Borders are changing daily. Syria, as a state, no longer exists. So this is the time for initiative."
Past US-backed Israeli-Syrian peace efforts were predicated on a return of the Golan. With President Bashar Assad having now lost swathes of Syria to jihadi rebels like Islamic State, Bennett argued Israeli hawks had been vindicated in opposing any territorial handover.
"It's clear that had we listened to the world and given up the Golan, ISIS (Islamic State) would be swimming in the Galilee," Bennett said, referring to the northern lake that is a key Israeli water source. "Enough with the hypocrisy, already."
Israel has publicly straddled the fence on Syria. It sees Assad's decline as irreversible. But it worries about his reinforcement by Iran and Hezbollah guerrillas from neighboring Lebanon, and the prospect of unbridled chaos if Damascus falls.