The U.S. decision to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory and legitimize its occupation will further destabilize of the region, experts said. They voiced concerns for the possible dangerous consequences and acknowledged that the already shaken balances between regional actors have enabled Washington to make such bold moves in the first place, providing the means for U.S. President Donald Trump to dare to violate the territorial integrity of a country. According to Taha Ayhan, the head of the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum, the U.S. has taken advantage of the conjuncture in the region, especially in Syria, in order to make decisions and thanks to this "very-long awaited opportunity" it has ultimately provided a benefit to Israel.
"Syria cannot defend its territorial integrity while there is a state of anarchy in the country due to the civil war," Ayhan said of the country's helpless situation. "Moreover, the countries in the region cannot move together against this decision because of fractions among them. Considering all these factors, Israel and the U.S. knew that it was a good time for action," he added. Trump signed a decree Monday at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the U.S. now recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.
The decree formalized Trump's statement on March 21 saying it was time for the U.S. "to fully recognize" Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The move appeared to give Netanyahu a boost ahead of the closely contested April 9 Israeli elections.
"This was a long time in the making," Trump said alongside Netanyahu at the White House. U.S. recognition for Israeli control over the territory breaks with decades of international consensus.
"Because this decision is against international law, the U.N. Security Council will not approve the decision. However, this decision can change the balance in the region and harm Syria's territorial integrity," Ayhan explained, adding that the decision is a result of long-lasting activities of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Netanyahu had pressed for the recognition of his country's sovereignty over the area for months.
"The Golan has been the only region that interested Israel during the Syrian civil war. From the perspective of Israel, the Golan Heights is the most strategic area in the region due to its water resources and security," Taha Dağlı, the Director of international news on Channel 7, said.
During the Six-Day War, fought between June 5-10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt (known at the time as the United Arab Republic), Jordan and Syria, Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria. Israeli settlement in the Golan began soon after the war.
On Dec. 14, 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law, that extended Israeli "laws, jurisdiction and administration" to the area. This action was unanimously rejected at the time by the U.N. Security Council, which stated that "the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect." Syria and Israel held several talks for a peace deal that included the return of the territory to Damascus but negotiations eventually collapsed.
Israel has been seeking to maintain its grip on the Golan Heights mainly due to its geostrategic significance due to water sources and physical location. The country gets about one-third of its total water needs from the Golan Heights and the Jordan River passing nearby. It is also one of the highest points in the region and located only 60 kilometers from Damascus; it also borders Lebanon and Jordan. The area is also referred to in the holy scriptures of the Jewish people, who consider the Golan Heights to be holy.
Bora Bayraktar, an academic from Istanbul Kültür University, also agrees that the U.S.-Israeli alliance has bad intentions over the region, especially against the territorial unity of other countries.
Mentioning the fractions in the Syrian civil war in relation to the issue, Bayraktar underlined that while some countries like Turkey have always defended Syria's territorial integrity, others like the U.S. do not give it value.
"There are two international camps in the Syrian civil war. One camp consists of those who support the territorial integrity of Syria, including Turkey, Russia and Iran. The other camp, which is led by the U.S., includes those who move against the territorial integrity of Syria," Bayraktar said.
Turkey defends Syria's territorial integrity
Turkey has become one of the first countries to react to the move even before it was officially signed. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey would take the issue of U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights to the U.N., in regard to Trump's recent announcement that was widely regarded as a breach of international law. "The U.N. has the final verdict on this," Erdoğan said and added, "It is not possible for the U.N. General Assembly to approve the issue," implying that Turkey will not allow the issue to be agreed upon.
Speaking at the emergency Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Istanbul, Erdoğan also said that Turkey will never allow the legitimization of Israel's invasion of Golan Heights and accused the U.S. of bringing the region to the brink of a new crisis.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also emphasized the fundamental importance of states' territorial integrity under international law.
"Attempts by the U.S. to legitimize Israel's actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region," Çavuşoğlu wrote in a tweet. "Turkey supports Syria's territorial integrity," he added.
Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın also condemned the preposterous claim. "The territorial integrity of countries is protected under international law," Kalın said in a tweet.
"The U.S. government's @realDonaldTrump attempts to legitimate Israel's illegal actions toward Golan Heights mean nothing but supporting Israel's p
olicy of occupation and deepening the conflict in the region," Kalın added.
Serdar Kılıç, Turkish ambassador to the U.S., also condemned the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
Sharing a statement on Twitter, Kılıç said: "This unfortunate decision, which constitutes a grave violation of international law, particularly U.N. Security Council Resolution 497 (1981), demonstrates that the U.S. administration continues its approach to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution in the Middle East."
"Instead of further destabilizing the region with futile attempts to justify Israel's acts against international law, it is an essential responsibility of all members of the international community to comply with the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter and U.N. Security Council Resolutions," he added.
Golan is an election gift from Trump to Netanyahu
Another important factor regarding the decision was its timing since the Israeli elections are around the corner and Netanyahu seeks to attract voters in the upcoming national elections.
"The upcoming Israel elections on April 9 are the most important factor," Dağlı said, adding that Trump is in favor of Netanyahu's victory in the elections since he is an important partner for Trump's future plans in the Middle East."Also, it is important for Trump to attract the support of Jewish community in the next year's elections," said Ayhan.
The U.S. is the first country to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the rest of the international community regards as occupied by Israel.