By TOI staff
State Department official says maps will be updated to reflect change in policy and Israel’s need for ‘secure and defensible borders’
An image of the CIA’s map of Israel taken on March 28, 2019, that refers to the Golan Heights as “Israeli occupied.” (Library of Congress)
The Trump administration is preparing to update all US government maps to include the Golan Heights as part of Israel, after the president formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the territory.
A State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Persian service that the map changes would be “consistent” with the shift in longstanding American foreign policy that now “recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”
In the emailed statement Wednesday, the spokesperson declined to answer whether the US sees the Israel-Syria border as along the 1974 ceasefire line or along the western edge of the demilitarized zone that is patrolled by a UN observer force.
In a separate interview, Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, confirmed to VOA this week that the State Department would “redraw” its official maps and release them “as soon as they are ready.” He said the changes will reflect the “need for Israel to have secure and defensible borders.”
As of Thursday, the State Department’s map of Israel had not yet been updated, and still showed the Golan as Syrian territory. The map of Israel on the CIA’s World Factbook website and the one published by the Library of Congress were also unchanged, with the territory marked as “Israeli occupied.”
A screenshot of the State Department’s official map of Israel on March 28, 2019, that shows the Golan Heights as part of Syria. (screen capture: State Department)
Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.
A 1974 ceasefire agreement that officially ended the Yom Kippur War led to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force known as UNDOF on the Golan Heights.
US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan on Monday, drawing sharp rebuke from allies and UN member states.
At a Wednesday Security Council session convened at Syria’s request, the 14 other member nations denounced the US move, with most speakers noting a UN resolution that called Israel’s de-facto annexation “null and void and without international legal effect.”
US President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Trump’s proclamation raised questions about the future of UNDOF after its mandate expires on June 30.
US political coordinator Rodney Hunter told the council Wednesday that UNDOF has “a vital role to play in preserving stability between Israel and Syria,” an assurance that the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty won’t affect its operation.
He said the force’s mandate to ensure that the area of separation between Syria and Israel “is a buffer zone free from any military presence or activities” is of “critical strategic and security importance” to Israel, and “can contribute to the stability of the entire Middle East.”
Hunter said the move doesn’t affect the 1974 ceasefire agreement, “nor do we believe that it undermines UNDOF’s mandate in any way.”
He strongly criticized “the daily presence of the Syrian armed forces” in the area of separation, where UNDOF is the only military force allowed, calling their presence a violation of the 1974 ceasefire agreement.
Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) enter Syria from the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria on August 30, 2014. (Flash90)
The United States calls on Russia to use its influence with President Bashar Assad “to compel the Syrian forces to uphold their commitment” to the ceasefire agreement “and immediately withdraw from the area of separation,” Hunter said.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean Pierre Lacroix told the council there is “a continued significant threat” to UNDOF personnel from explosive remnants of war, “and from the possible presence of sleeper cells of armed groups including (UN) listed terrorist groups.”
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo expressed hope that “the recent developments will not be used as an excuse by anyone to pursue actions that could undermine the relative stability of the situation on Golan and beyond.”