Israel on Sunday announced a multi-million dollar plan to double the number of Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights, in a move to entrench their control of the territory more than 50 years after they captured it from Syria.
Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights – which it formally annexed in 1981, 14 years after its seizure in 1967 – has never been recognised by the international community.
In 2019 former US President Donald Trump became the first and only country to recognise Israel’s claim to the territory. Syria blasted it as a “flagrant violation” of their sovereignty.
“This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights,” Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett said at a special cabinet meeting in the area. “After long and static years in terms of the scope of settlement, our goal today is to double settlement in the Golan Heights.”
The $317m (£237m) plan will significantly tip the demographic balance of the annexed land, which currently stands at around 25,000 Israeli settlers and 23,000 Druze families – a religious minority in the region – who remained after it was captured.
Mr Bennett on Sunday said that this recognition from Mr Trump, as well as President Biden’s indication that there would be no Middle East policy change, was an “important” factor in the decision to invest in the area.
Under the plans two new neighbourhoods will be created, as well as development programmes for construction, tourism, transportation and medical facilities. In 2019 a new town named “Trump Heights” was inaugurated.
“It goes without saying that the Golan Heights is Israeli,” Mr Bennett said on Sunday.
The Right-wing prime minister maintained that entrenching Israeli control of the Golan Heights is necessary to protect itself from Iran and Syria.
“Just imagine what it would be like to battle Iran’s attempt to use Syria as a military base, from which to attack Israel, if the Golan Heights were in Syrian hands,” Israeli deputy prime minister Gideon Sa’ar was reported as saying in the Jerusalem Post.
The plan – which was unanimously passed by the cabinet – aims to double the settler population by 2025.