Israel will keep the Golan Heights forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced remarks that stopped short of recognizing the claim.
In 2019, then-U.S. President Donald Trump parted with other world powers by recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli. Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981.
Blinken said on Monday he saw control of the Golan, which overlooks northern Israel and also borders Lebanon and Jordan, as being "of real importance to Israel's security" but was circumspect about recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
"Legal questions are something else and over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that's something we look at, but we are nowhere near that," Blinken told CNN.
He added that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government as well as the presence of militia groups backed by Iran pose a "significant security threat" to Israel.
Biden’s advisers had said previously that he would not withdraw U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
Briefing reporters, Netanyahu said in response: "Look, they said they are looking at it - but I have already looked at it. As far as I am concerned, the Golan Heights will remain forever part of the State of Israel, a sovereign part."
"What, should we return it to Syria?" he added, noting the internal strife in Israel's long-time enemy. "Should we return the Golan to a situation where mass-slaughter is a danger?"
Syria has long demanded the return of the Golan, and Israel's unilateral annexation of the area was not recognized internationally.