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Latest News in Israel – 26th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

30 rockets pound Israel despite calls for cease-fire

Despite talks of a cease-fire by 11:00 p.m., rockets continued to be shot into Israel from Gaza. At approximately midnight, a rocket barrage was shot into the Eshkol Regional Council and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, where a spokeswoman for the cluster of communities said power was cut due to the attacks.

Palestinian media reported that Israel Air Force jets attacked Gazan targets in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, according to Maariv news, however the IDF has yet to confirm the strikes.

Many residents reportedly went to sleep in bomb shelters, as communities in the Gaza belt region have 15 seconds from the time the “tzeva adom” or “code red” warning siren is sounded until rocket impact. In most cases rockets are shot down in mid-air by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which has been deployed in the south of the country.

The latest wave of rockets caused no injuries or property damage, said Adi Meiri, spokeswoman for Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.

School has been cancelled for Tuesday in the city of Ashkelon and the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, areas that have been hit by rockets in past flare-ups, the Ministry of Education announced following recommendations from the Home Front Command. Residents will be updated in the morning if the situation continues.

The first rocket to be fired at Israel happened around 5:20 a.m. on Monday. Hamas launched a rocket that flew toward the center of the country, slamming into a private home in the Sharon region. Seven people were injured and four dogs were killed.

That rocket led to an escalation between Israel and Hamas, as Israel retaliated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled his scheduled speech at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington and boarded a plane home to Israel Tuesday. “We gave a very strong, very powerful response,” he stated of the retaliatory attacks on Gaza following the destruction of a residential home in Kfar Saba on Monday. “Hamas needs to know that we will not hesitate to enter and take the necessary steps,” he added.

Elected officials across the spectrum have weighed in on the current security situation, including MK Moti Yogev, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who warned that a ceasefire with Hamas would not be enough of a deterrent.

“The destruction of terrorist homes is good,” said Yogev in a tweet late Monday night, referring to the actions the IDF has taken against terrorists in the West Bank, “but in the Gaza Strip it is not enough.”

He said that a ceasefire in the face of continued rocket attacks, “violates Israel’s commitment to its citizens. Deterrence resides only when the leaders of terror are given a price that they will not be able to withstand.” (Jerusalem Post)

Earlier story:

Ceasefire reportedly reached as IDF pounds Gaza all evening

The Hamas Al-Aqsa Channel reported that the Egyptians have succeeded in reaching a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

The channel quoted an “informed source” as confirming that the cease-fire had been reached,  but did not provide further details.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen Channel also reported that a cease-fire has been reached and would go into effect at 10.00 pm.

Heavy rocket barrages were fired towards communities in southern Israel Monday evening shortly after the Israeli airforce began striking targets across the Gaza Strip in response to a long-range rocket struck a civilian home in central Israel some 12 hours earlier.

Israel’s military said that fighter planes and combat helicopters struck Hamas targets in Shati, Beit Hanoun, Saja’iya and other locations throughout the Gaza Strip, hitting targets which included military compounds, tunnel shafts that were used to transport weapons, military positions and rocket launching positions.

One of the targets struck by Israeli jets was the offices of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Rimal neighborhood in the northern Gaza Strip. The building, the IDF said, served as an office for military meetings and as the headquarters of Hamas’ internal security forces was attacked in the past by Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.

Local reports in Gaza said that the IDF also struck the home of the director of the General Intelligence in Gaza, Hammam Deeb.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office stated that another target was a three-story building that served as a “secret headquarters” of Hamas where militants belonging to the security and intelligence divisions of the organization were located.

Meanwhile local Palestinians in Gaza said the building served as an office building for the al-Moltazem insurance company.

“The IDF is determined to protect the citizens of Israel and is prepared and ready for various scenarios,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said.

As a precaution, the IDF instructed residents in Gaza border communities to remain close to bomb shelters or safe rooms, closed the Zikim beach and restricted gatherings of more than 100 people in open spaces and more than 300 people in closed spaces across the Gaza border communities.

Bomb shelters in Tel Aviv, Rishon Letzion and Beersheba in the south and in the Mt. Carmel Regional Council, in northern Israel, were opened by authorities.

The IDF has also closed a number of roads and areas including the Black Arrow site close to the Gaza border following a security assessment. The military has also halted any agricultural work in fields near the border fence and all schools in the Eshkol and Ashkelon regional councils ended early and will be closed on Tuesday.

All public events scheduled to take place on Monday in the city of Ashkelon were also canceled,including a soccer game between local team Hapoel Ashkelon and Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.

Additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries were also deployed across the country.

Israel’s military has also deployed two infantry and armored brigades to southern Israel and has begun a limited call up for reservists in the intelligence and air defense corps. The two additional brigades sent to bolster the IDF’s Gaza Division with some 1,000 soldiers, had been conducting training exercises but were cut short due to the heightened tensions.

According to IDF Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, the locally produced rocket was fired by Hamas operatives from a Hamas military post in Rafiah in the southern part of the Strip and had a range of 120 kilometers.

Manelis, who refused to answer if the rocket was fired accidentally or deliberately, said that it was serious incident and that Israel is holding Hamas responsible.

“The launch was carried out by Hamas from one of the group’s launchpads. We see Hamas as responsible for everything that happens in Gaza,” Manelis said on a call with reporters.  (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim, Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon

‘My husband pulled our son from the window and the glass smashed a second later’

Residents of a central Israel community hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip recalled Monday that they weren’t sure they had heard a real air raid siren because an attack was so unexpected.

The attack triggered air raid sirens at approximately 5:20 a.m. throughout the Sharon and Emek Hefer regions north of Tel Aviv, the army said. Some residents of the region said they didn’t hear the alert. There were heavy thunderstorms throughout the region at the time.

Seven people were injured, one moderately, when the rocket landed in the community of Mishmeret, destroying a five-room home and causing damage to other structures in the area.

Yoni Wolf, a son from the family whose home was destroyed, told Hebrew-language media that he was “in shock” at what had happened.

“My brother was the one in charge during the incident, he is the one who woke up everyone in the night,” he said. “While my father went to get my sister from the other living area the rocket fell on the home. Some made it to the [family] bomb shelter, some didn’t.”

Many Israeli homes have a built-in reinforced room which is designed to provide protection against rocket and bomb attacks.

The rocket apparently landed in a corridor connecting two wings of the home, collapsing the roof and blowing out the windows. Debris covered the floor and the walls were pockmarked by shrapnel. Images from the site showed damage to other buildings and structures around it, including a hole punched into the side of a large gas tank.

Bar Fucher, 12, a neighbor who suffered cuts and scratches in the attack, described the moments as her family tried to scramble to safety.

“When the sirens started my father woke us up,” she told the Walla website. “Since we don’t have a bomb shelter we ran to our grandparents’ home but the door was locked,” she said.

The family was apparently still seeking safety when the rocket landed.

“The explosion was really loud, and the house filled with smoke, it was really scary,” she added.

Anat, a neighbor who lives near the home that was hit, told Walla that she didn’t believe the siren was a real alert until the explosion shook the community.

“I was shaking,” she said. “First I heard the siren and I was sure it was false and a mistake because I didn’t think for a moment that something like this could happen to us, in such a quiet place in the center of the country,” she said.

“Even after the boom — my whole body was shaking, I told myself it wasn’t real and couldn’t happen to us. I am lost for words, I hear all the time on the news that it happens in the south,” she added.

Ido, who lives next to the building that was hit, said that he didn’t even hear the air raid siren.

“I only heard the explosion,” he told Channel 13 news. “The first thing I felt was fear, the young children were really in a panic. We know the family, a good family, with children, these kind of things shouldn’t happen. We expect a response, so that something like this doesn’t pass quietly.”

Iris, a resident of the community, recalled how her husband managed to pull the son to safety a moment before the blast blew out the windows of their home.

An infant’s swing outside the home of the Wolf family in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 by a rocket fired from Gaza. 

“My youngest son heard the siren and woke us, and at first we didn’t understand what was going on,” she told Channel 12 news.

She explained how her husband told their youngest son to move away from the window, just in time.

“My husband pulled Nir away and a second after that the glass shattered,” she said.

Security officials were reportedly looking into why the siren was not heard across the Mishmeret community.

According to the military, the rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip, from where earlier this month two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, in what was described at the time as an apparent “mistake” by the Hamas terror group.

The Iron Dome missile defense system did not appear to have been activated by the rocket attack. The military said it was still investigating the matter.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the source of the rocket attack.  (the Times of Israel) Stuart Winer and Staff

Gazans: Hamas dragging us into war

Several residents of the Gaza Strip on Monday accused Hamas of dragging the Palestinians into another “destructive war” with Israel.

They also said that the current tensions serve the interests of Hamas, especially in wake of the recent protests against economic hardship throughout the Gaza Strip.

In telephone interviews with The Jerusalem Post, residents of the Gaza Strip said that they were extremely worried that another war with Israel would lead to a “major catastrophe.”

They said that many residents believe that Hamas was deliberately provoking so as to divert attention from its problems at home.

Hamas has faced sharp criticism from many Palestinians for its brutal crackdown on Gazans who took to the streets to protest the high cost of living and soaring unemployment in the coastal enclave.

“A war with Israel will help Hamas divert attention from the growing anger towards its repressive measures,” said Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a social worker from Gaza City. “The Hamas leaders are holding our people hostage. Most people here don’t want another war.”

Palestinian political analyst Majdi Hamdan said that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip were again paying a heavy price for the “foolish actions and policies” of the Hamas rulers.

“Hamas needs to admit that it has failed in running the affairs of the Palestinians living under its rule,” he told the Post. “Even if the rocket was fired at Israel accidentally, Hamas still bears responsibility as the de facto administration in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamdan predicted that Hamas’s failure to prevent the launching of rockets at Israel will also ruin the movement’s relations with Egypt, whose intelligence officials have been working hard in recent months to avoid a fourth war between Gaza and Israel.

Other Palestinians predicted that a war with Israel would earn Hamas additional sympathy among Palestinians, who will see it as a victim of yet another Israeli “aggression.”

A major Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip will also further undermine the credibility of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, who are accused by Hamas and other Palestinians of being in “collusion” with Israel and the US administration to remove Hamas from power, they said.

“If Hamas remains in power after the current military confrontation, its leaders will again declare victory over the Zionist enemy,” said Nabil Shehadeh, a Fatah activist from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. “This will be bad for President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, who want to see an end to Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip.”

Some Palestinians said it was premature to talk about the downfall of Hamas.

“No one knows how this is going to end,” said a veteran Palestinian journalist from Gaza City. “Even if Israel kills some of the Hamas leaders, the movement has thousands of security officers and gunmen belonging to its armed wing, the Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades.

They will do everything to prevent the Palestinian Authority from returning to the Gaza Strip. People here may be very angry with Hamas, but when Hamas is attacked by Israel, they will side with Hamas.”

Sources in the Gaza Strip said that most of the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have gone into hiding out of fear of being targeted by Israel in response to the Monday morning rocket attack on the Kfar Saba region, which injured seven people. “Some of them have left their homes together with their families,” the sources said.

Hamas, meanwhile, issued instructions to the residents of the Gaza Strip not to interact with Israeli social media sites that are “waging psychological warfare on the Palestinians.” Hamas urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip not to answer “suspicious phone calls,” claiming that the Israeli security forces were trying to gather information about what’s happening in the Gaza Strip. Hamas also appealed to Palestinians to report any “suspicious movements” in the Gaza Strip to its security forces.   (Jerusalem Post) Khaled Abu Toameh

Alongside PM, Trump signs proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty on Golan

US President Donald Trump on Monday formally recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying the dramatic shift in American policy will help Israel defend itself against regional threats.

“This was a long time in the making,” Trump said alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, as he signed the proclamation.

Speaking ahead of the signing, Trump said the move would “allow Israel to defend itself” against the “significant security challenges it faces every single day.” He said Israel “took the Golan Heights to safeguard from external threats,” such as those it currently faces from Syria, Iran, and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981, a step tantamount to annexation. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. The plateau lies along a strategic area on the border between Israel and Syria.

According to the text of the proclamation, “Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

It proceeds to “hereby proclaim that, the United States recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”

The US president, speaking later in the Oval Office, also said he had studied the issue for “years” and “this should have been done, I would say, numerous presidents ago. But for some reason they didn’t do it, and I am very honored to have done it.”

Trump also vowed to continue his administration’s strong position on Iran, saying his decision to reimpose sanctions on the regime in Tehran were “having a big effect.”

“Iran is not the same country it was when I took office,” he said.

In his remarks, Netanyahu thanked Trump for the “historic” recognition of the Golan Heights, and for his administration’s “incredible support” for Israel.

“Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Netanyahu told Trump.

“Your decision to recognize sovereignty is a two-fold act of historic justice: Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s connection to that land goes back generations.”

Netanyahu said the mountainous plateau along the Syrian border was “invaluable” to Israel’s self-defense, and the “historic decision has profound meaning for me and us and all Israelis.”

“Your proclamation comes at a time when the Golan is more important than ever for our security, when Iran is trying to establish bases in Syria to strike at Israel. From across the border in Syria, Iran has launched drones into our airspace, missiles into our territory,” continued Netanyahu.

“Mr. President, just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

US President Donald Trump hands his pen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after signing 

a Proclamation on the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House

Trump tweeted Thursday that it was “time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” upending decades of US policy on the matter.

The announcement was seen as an election boost for Netanyahu, who is facing a tough challenge in the upcoming April 9 polls.

His main rival, ex-IDF chief Benny Gantz, earlier Monday praised Trump as “a true partner and an ally of Israel.”

“Thank you for recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and for placing your embassy there,” Gantz said in an address for the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. “And thank you for recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Netanyahu was visiting Washington for the AIPAC event, but cut short his visit and canceled his AIPAC speech scheduled for Tuesday after a rocket fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip hit a house north of Tel Aviv, wounding seven Israelis and raising expectations of an escalation of hostilities. Netanyahu was heading back to Israel after his meeting at the White House.

“As we speak, Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” Netanyahu said in the White House. “Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” he added.

Trump in December 2017 also became the first US president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the embassy to the city months later.  (the Times of Israel) Tamar Pileggi and Raphael Ahren

IDF: Boy, 7, lightly injured in terror shooting at West Bank settlement

A 7-year-old Israeli boy was lightly injured Monday night, when shots were fired at the central West Bank settlement of Beit El from a nearby Palestinian village, the IDF said.

The young child was rushed to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center after sustaining a hand wound in the shooting.

The army said that troops were searching the surrounding area for suspects and that the shots had come from the direction of the Palestinian village of Dura al-Qaraa, north of Beit El.

Doctors at the Jerusalem hospital said the boy was fully conscious, but would likely require surgery.

Responding to the shooting, Beit El Local Council chairman Shai Alon said, “Miraculously, the injury was mild, but the incident could have ended otherwise.”

The settler leader called on the army to enter Jalazone, another village north of the settlement, “from which we have endured several shooting attacks.” He called for troops to “restore order and settle accounts there.”

The incident in Beit El took place as a barrage of rocket fire targeted southern Israel. Earlier Monday evening, the IDF said it struck dozens of terror targets in the coastal enclave in response to the rocket fired at central Israel at dawn that struck a home in the town of Mishmeret, injuring 7 people inside.

Last week, IDF soldier Gal Keidan and civilian Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger were killed in a combined stabbing and shooting terror attack in the northern West Bank. (the Times of Israel) Jacob Magid

Gaza is Benjamin Netanyahu’s recurring  nightmare

Why hasn’t Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the last 10 years as prime minister to topple Hamas like he promised in 2009?

by Yaacov Katz     The Jerusalem Post

https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Gaza-is-Benjamin-Netanyahus-recurring-nightmare-analysis-584596

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Israel found itself in the same situation it is in today. It was the end of 2008, and while Hamas rockets could not yet strike Tel Aviv, the threat from the Gaza Strip was growing. Israel decided to take action.

The operation that was launched – Cast Lead – was the first large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in the summer of 2005. The campaign lasted three weeks and saw IDF troops cut the coastal enclave in half to prevent Hamas from freely moving weapons.

Like today, Israel at the time was in the middle of a general election, sparked by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to resign due to the criminal probes that were closing in on him. Benjamin Netanyahu was the head of opposition. He was the one criticizing Olmert and Tzipi Livni – his successor as head of Kadima – as not being tough enough on Gaza.

“The only way to remove this threat is to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the time, criticizing Kadima and the government for halting the operation before the job was done. “I want to be very clear: We will not stop the IDF. We will topple Hamas’s terror regime and we will restore security to the residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot, and to all of Israel.”

But that was 10 years ago. Today it is Netanyahu who is facing criminal investigations, who is in the middle of an election campaign and who is facing political rivals – Benny Gantz and Naftali Bennett in particular – who claim he is not being tough enough, and that his policy of trying to contain the situation in Gaza has not only backfired, it has now destroyed a home just north of Tel Aviv.

So why hasn’t Netanyahu used the last decade as prime minister to topple Hamas, as he promised in 2009? Because while that might have been a nice campaign promise, he knows that a fourth war with Hamas would likely end in the same way that it began. It is true that Hamas would be weakened and likely more deterred than it is today, but the challenge Gaza poses to Israel would not be solved. It would just be pushing the problem down the road until the next escalation – perhaps a year or two later.

This time though, Netanyahu may not have a choice but to respond aggressively. While some people read into his decision to cut short his trip to the US as a sign that Israel is going to launch a major offensive, that is not necessarily the case. Netanyahu is not just Israel’s prime minister; he is also the defense minister. One of the two needs to be at the security cabinet meeting on Tuesday when Israel’s response is decided. Since he is both, there is only him.

Due to the elections, Netanyahu finds himself in an even more complicated situation. When deciding to launch Cast Lead in 2008, Olmert was not running for reelection, and so he knew that there would not be a direct political price one way or another – whether he was seen as being too weak on Hamas, or too aggressive.

That is not the same right now. Netanyahu is up for reelection, and traditionally avoids large-scale military operations especially when close to elections. Having the population hunkered down in bomb shelters as the IDF invades Gaza could come at a major political price. On the other hand, being perceived as too restrained and tolerant provides his political rivals with the opportunity to attack him.

As difficult as it might be, Netanyahu will likely try to find a middle ground. Hamas needs to pay a price and understand that rocket attacks like the one on Monday will not be tolerated. Israel will need to strike back hard from the air, and possibly from the ground as well. How Hamas answers Israel’s response will set the tone for what comes next.

But as the last 10 years have shown, the Gaza issue is not simply going away. And while a long-term solution will one day need to be found, that won’t happen in the two weeks left before the April 9 elections. For now, force will be met by force.

Security Is Not Enough

by  Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen            BESA Center    (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies).

https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-security-not-enough/

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The State of Israel is at a fateful crossroads. The unending necessity to safeguard the state’s secure existence ensures that its leaders will face complex and painful decisions. But there are other, no less critical considerations that must be factored into the decision-making equation, notably powerful national, historical, cultural, and religious sentiments and aspirations.

David Ben-Gurion was the only Israeli PM to make a point of stressing that the state of Israel has a higher purpose than providing a safe haven to persecuted Jews. During the first decade of statehood, he repeatedly emphasized:

“Security is but a condition for our existence and our independence. The state of Israel has a special mission. Every state must ensure the wellbeing, welfare, and progress of its residents. Our state, too, is obligated to do so, but it is not the cardinal concern. The supreme task of the state of Israel is the redemption of the People of Israel through the ingathering of the exiles.”

On the national level, the problem of security reflects the inextricable link between the spiritual and the physical aspects of the country’s existence. Yet the political-security conversation guiding Israel for years has been reduced to an excessive, if not exclusive, focus on physical security – a point well understood by Israel’s Palestinian “peace partners.” Prominent PLO leader Abbas Zaki explained the organization’s feigned endorsement of the two-state solution this way: “If we divest the Jews of Hebron and Jerusalem, from which they draw their inspiration for their national existence, what will remain for them? What bond do they have to Jaffa and to Haifa? They will then collapse of themselves.”

Ben-Gurion, recognizing the spiritual calling of the People of Israel in its ancestral homeland, asserted during the early critical phase of the War of Independence that the struggle over Jerusalem was the key endeavor:

If a land has a soul, then Jerusalem is the soul of the Land of Israel and the battle over Jerusalem is decisive and not only from a military standpoint…. That pledge beside the waters of Babylon (“If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill”) is just as binding today as it was in those days; otherwise we will not be worthy of the name “The People of Israel.”

There is little doubt that Israel is now at a fateful crossroads. The ongoing challenge of physically protecting the lives of its citizens ensures that its leaders will face complex and painful decisions. But there are other, no less critical considerations that must be factored into the decision-making equation – notably powerful national, historical, cultural, and religious sentiments and aspirations.

The state of Israel and the Zionist enterprise need an up-to-date Jewish-Israeli narrative that gives meaning to the century-long struggle in the ancestral homeland. Placing the sole emphasis on the physical aspects of the “security problem,” as some parties do in their eagerness to avoid the hard existential questions awaiting Israel, obscures this story. This is a time for clarity of purpose, not evasive pragmatism.

The Golan Heights, explained

by Ben Sales   JTA

https://www.jta.org/2019/03/21/israel/the-golan-heights-explained

President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” he wrote Thursday afternoon.

Here’s what you need to know about the Golan Heights, the 52-year argument over the plateau and why Trump’s tweet is a big deal for Israel’s upcoming election.

What is the Golan Heights?

The Golan Heights is a territory in Israel’s northeast corner, on the Syrian border. It’s rural, mountainous and mostly empty. Fewer than 50,000 people live there — less than 1 percent of Israel’s population of 8.7 million. Half of the Golan’s residents are Jewish Israelis who live mostly in small agricultural communities. The other half are from a religious group called the Druze, who are mostly citizens of Syria.

The Golan Heights is a region at Israel’s northeast corner, on the border with Syria.

What? Why are there Syrian citizens living in Israel?

Good question! The Golan wasn’t always controlled by Israel. Until 1967, it was part of Syria, but Israel took control of the area that year in the Six-Day War. Israelis began moving there almost immediately, and Israel fully annexed the Golan in 1981, treating it like any other part of the country. It offered the Syrian Druze residents citizenship, but most of them have declined.

So now the Golan is part of Israel?

Kind of. Israel thinks so, but no other country has recognized its sovereignty over the heights — including the U.S. The international community sees the Golan as Syrian territory occupied by Israel in a war — a view shared by every president before Trump.

Israel has flirted with returning the Golan to Syria a few times in exchange for a full peace treaty. In the 1990s, and as late as 2010, Israeli prime ministers considered the idea in negotiations.

But Israelis don’t want to part with the Golan. In the ’90s, as peace talks advanced, bumper stickers that read “The Nation with the Golan” spread around Israel. In 2008, when Israel and Syria conducted indirect negotiations, nearly 60 percent of Israelis opposed returning the Golan in exchange for peace. In addition to its stunning landscapes, the Golan holds strategic value for Israel as a high ground that overlooks the country’s north.

And even though no country recognizes Israel’s claim to the Golan, it still isn’t that controversial. Most criticism of Israel relates to how it treats Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But there are no Palestinians in the Golan, and the Druze residents there don’t protest Israel. Even with a civil war raging next door, the Golan is tranquil.

What’s happening with the Golan now?

When the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011, fragmenting and destroying much of the country, talk of Israel giving back the Golan stopped. Israelis worried that it would become a base for terror groups like ISIS, and there was no Syrian government powerful enough to sign and enforce a peace treaty. Plus, did Israel really want to negotiate with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad?

Since then, a range of centrist and right-wing Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has called on the international community to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“You can imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” the prime minister said Wednesday in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s time that the international community recognizes Israel’s stay in the Golan, the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel.”

Now that talk has spread to the Republican Party. Last week, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, called on the U.S. to recognize Israel’s claim to the Golan. Trump himself followed suit on Thursday, breaking with half a century of U.S. policy.

That sounds like a big deal. 

It is. First, it makes clear that peace between Israel and Syria isn’t happening anytime soon, even when the civil war ends. If Israel’s hold on the Golan was tight before, it’s airtight now. U.S. recognition would give its annexation a dose of international legitimacy, so Israel is even less likely to withdraw now.

It’s also a big deal for Netanyahu, who is facing a credible challenge to his premiership in the election a couple of weeks away. Trump’s statement is a huge boost in a tight race. Netanyahu has bet heavily on Trump since he became  president, and it’s paid off for him politically. Trump has basically fulfilled Netanyahu’s wish list on everything from recognizing Jerusalem to withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement that Netanyahu vehemently opposed.

Now, in a close race and with his career on the line, Netanyahu can tell Israeli voters he’s the prime minister who delivered U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights.

Does this mean anything for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Maybe. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of five territories. In the ensuing 52 years, it’s withdrawn from two — the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, both in the south — with the goal of making peace.

Israel has also annexed two — eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Trump recognized the Jerusalem annexation in 2017. Now Trump and his Senate allies are pushing Congress to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, too. In February, Republican House members introduced a bill to do just that.

The fifth territory is the West Bank, which is way more complicated. Israel hasn’t withdrawn from nor annexed it — yet. But a bunch of right-wing Israeli politicians want to do just that — declare Israeli sovereignty over part or all of the West Bank, where 400,000 Israeli settlers and some 2.5 million Palestinians live.

If Trump recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan and eastern Jerusalem, could he recognize a West Bank annexation, too?

The answer to that question used to be “no.” Now it’s “maybe.”