With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing by his side, President Trump on Monday signed a proclamation officially recognizing the contested Golan Heights region as part of Israel – marking another unprecedented move by Trump in strengthening U.S.-Israeli relations.
“This was a long time in the making and it should have taken place many years ago,” Trump said before signing the proclamation.
Trump’s proclamation came just days after he tweeted his support for recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu, who has previously accused Iran of attempting to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights, praised Trump for his proclamation – calling the move “historic” and “invaluable” to the defense of the Jewish state.
“It was so important for me to come here and thank you,” Netanyahu said to Trump. “Israel has never had a better friend than you.”
The Israeli leader added: “Israel has seized the high ground which has proved invaluable to our defense.”
The Golan Heights is a large plateau that sits in a disputed area along the border with Syria. It has been occupied by Israel since it was seized from Syria in 1967. Israel contends the region is a critical buffer zone between the nation and the conflicts throughout the Middle East as Syria’s eight-year civil war has at times come close to the Golan boundary.
While the U.S. has historically attempted to remain impartial in the conflict over the Golan Heights -- which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War -- the Trump administration already has strengthened ties to Israel on other fronts. In 2017, Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and recognized the city as Israel’s capital, while a recent State Department report human rights bucked tradition and used the phrase “Israeli-controlled,” rather than “Israeli-occupied,” to describe the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza.
While appearing aside Trump during the press conference on the proclamation, Netanyahu is cutting his trip to Washington short following an early-morning rocket attack from the Gaza Strip that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven people.
Netanyahu held emergency consultations with military officials back in Israel and canceled a planned address to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby group and meetings with congressional leaders. The Israeli military announced earlier on Monday that it has started striking the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza after the rocket attack.
“Israel will not tolerate this, I will not tolerate this,” the Israeli leader said. “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”
The strike came at a sensitive time for both sides. Netanyahu, locked in a tight race for re-election, came under heavy criticism from his rivals Monday and faced tough pressure to strike back at Hamas.
Hamas, meanwhile, is facing perhaps its toughest test since seizing control of Gaza 12 years ago. An Israel-Egyptian blockade, imposed to weaken Hamas, combined with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government have all fueled an economic crisis.
Hamas has been leading weekly protests along the Israeli border for the past year in hopes of easing the blockade, but the demonstrations, in which some 190 people have been killed by Israeli fire, have done little to improve conditions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.