Sen. Lindsey Graham met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a trip where the South Carolina Republican praised the allied relationship between the United States and Israel.
Graham visited with Netanyahu along with David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday morning. As part of the trip, Graham, a staunch supporter of Israel, also visited the Golan Heights on Monday with Netanyahu and Friedman and urged the US to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the narrow strip of mountainous territory occupied by Israel.
The visit from Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, comes on the heels of a contentious debate in Washington over recent remarks by freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar related to Israel that drew sharp criticism, including from prominent Democrats.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism as well as anti-Muslim discrimination and other forms of hate and intolerance in the wake of outrage over a remark from Omar where she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Standing alongside Netanyahu in the Golan Heights, Graham called Israel “a strategic partner” to the US and “the best friend the United States could possibly ever have in a troubled region.” He said, “I cannot tell you how much intelligence is given to the United States from our friends in Israel that protects the American homeland.”
Graham said, “Working with Senator (Ted) Cruz, I will start an effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel now and forever.”
“To give this territory up would be a strategic nightmare for the State of Israel,” Graham added. The territory, squeezed between Israel and Syria, offers a strategic platform from which to observe and monitor southern Syria, all the way to Damascus and beyond.
Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, has previously introduced a Senate resolution calling for the US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“The Golan is part of Israel; the Golan must stay part of Israel forever. I think it’s very important that the international community recognize this fact and accept it, and most especially, our great friend the United States,” said Netanyahu.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. No country has ever recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Israeli settlements in the territory are considered a violation of international law, which Israel disputes.
If the Trump administration were to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, it would be an enormous political victory for Netanyahu as he faces a difficult re-election campaign, boosting his chances of securing a fifth term as Israel’s leader. It would also fuel speculation that the overtly pro-Israel Trump administration is blatantly campaigning for Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s main challenger in the elections, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, visited the Golan Heights last week with two other former chiefs of staff, promising that Israel “will never relinquish the Golan Heights.”
Referencing the importance of US recognition, Gantz added, “We will enlist the support of the US and the international community to promote Israel’s interests on our northern border.”
Graham’s visit comes as Netanyahu faces controversy in Israel.
Israel’s attorney general announced last month that he intends to indict the Prime Minister on bribery and breach of trust charges arising from three separate corruption investigations, pending a hearing.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the investigations as a media-led witch hunt.