Syria is prepared to use military means to recapture the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad said on Sunday, shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel will never leave the strategic area.
Netanyahu’s comments came during a first-ever cabinet meeting held on the Golan Heights, a symbolic move designed to underscore Israel’s claim to the area as UN-led peace talks on the future of Syria are being held in Geneva.
“The time has come for the international community to recognize reality,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the meeting held at Ma’aleh Gamla. “First, that whatever will be on the other side of the border, the border will not change.
“Secondly,” Netanyahu added, “the time has come, after 50 years, for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty.”
Israel took the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War, and in 1981 extended Israeli law to the region, thereby de facto annexing it.
“I decided to hold this meeting on the Golan Heights to send a clear message,” he said. “The Golan Heights will always stay in Israeli hands, Israel will never leave the Golan Heights.”
Miqdad, however, said in an interview with the Lebanon- based Al-Mayadeen television channel that “the Syrian Golan is an occupied Arab land according to the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and the presence of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Forces proves this.
“We have never renounced the resistance and we are ready to recapture the Golan in all possible ways, including military ways. Israel wants to provoke us, but we will never surrender,” Miqdad added.
Netanyahu said the Golan was an integral part of Israel during antiquity, a fact borne out by the archeological remnants of dozens of synagogues there. And, he added, the Golan – which he said now has some 50,000 residents – is an integral part of Israel during the modern era.
“For the 19 years that the Golan was under Syrian occupation, it served as a place for bunkers, barbed wires, mines, and aggression – it was used for war,” he said. “In the 49 years that the Golan has been under Israeli control it was used for agriculture, tourism, economic initiatives, building – it was used for peace.”
Netanyahu said he spoke on Saturday night with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and told the American diplomat he doubted that Syria would ever return to what it was before the civil war there began five years ago.
“It has persecuted minorities, like the Christians, Druse and Kurds, who are fighting justifiably for their future and their security. And, on the other side, there are terrorist forces, especially Islamic State, Iran, Hezbollah and others, who want to impose radical Islam on Syria and the region, and from there to continue on to impose it throughout the world.”
Netanyahu said he told Kerry that Israel would not oppose a diplomatic agreement in Syria, “on the condition that it does not come at the expense of Israeli security.”
That means, he added, that, at the end of the day, Iranian, Hezbollah and Islamic State forces will be removed from Syrian soil.
The prime minister is expected to raise this issue on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he is scheduled to meet in Moscow. Putin is a key international backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russia is involved in the Geneva talks.
Miqdad, meanwhile, said Damascus is in close contact and cooperation with Moscow.
“We believe that the Russian policy leans on international law and on UN Security Council resolutions,” he said. “Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor any other president in the world would have accepted the indecent Israeli logic regarding the Golan.”
The cabinet ministers flew to the Golan in two helicopters, one that left from Jerusalem, and the other from Tel Aviv. Once they landed near Moshav Yonatan, most of them piled into a minibus for the short drive to Ma’aleh Gamla. The exceptions were Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who were driven in their own vehicles, with National Infrastructure, Water and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz joining Netanyahu in his car.
The ministers were met at the entrance to Ma’aleh Gamla by a small group of demonstrators protesting against oil drilling on the Golan Heights.
They also met with local council heads. Netanyahu pledged to strengthen the communities in the region.