Syria Says U.S. 'Main Enemy of Arabs' After Golan Move, What Do Allies Think?

Syria has condemned the United States' decision to recognize Israel's control over the disputed Golan Heights, which had been considered occupied by the United Nations, in a move bound to disrupt the administration's ties with the Arab World.

President Donald Trump officially announced the U.S. policy reversal Monday during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and after announcing his decision to do so on Twitter days earlier. Trump argued that Israel took the Golan "in a just war of self-defense" against Syria and its Arab allies in 1967, and said the decision to recognize Israel's 1981 annexation "should have taken place many decades ago."

Syria, whose government the U.S. targeted by sponsoring opposition forces in the wake of a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising, has resolutely condemned the decision. The official Syrian Arab News Agency cited an official within the Syrian Foreign Ministry as calling the move Monday a "blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and a disregard for all international reactions denouncing this decision."

The official said the U.S. decision to align itself so closely with Israel "makes it the main enemy of the Arabs" and "represents the highest degree of contempt for international legitimacy and a disgraceful slap to the international community."

Residents of the Golan Heights raise Syrian flags and a banner with portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a protest against the backing of Israel's capture of the Golan Heights by President Donald Trump, in the village of Majdal Shams, March 23, 2019. Trump's abrupt diplomatic turnaround was largely met with criticism abroad. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

A day after Trump tweeted Thursday that it was "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," the Syrian Foreign Ministry issued an official condemnation of the stance, asserting "that the Golan was and will remain Syrian, Arab." The ministry also accused the Trump administration of violating international law.

That same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also condemned the move, tweeting: "Attempts by the U.S. to legitimize Israel's actions against international law will only lead to more violence and pain in the region" and "Turkey supports Syria's territorial integrity." Ankara was a lead supporter of efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and continued to back insurgent groups in northern Syria. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a fierce critic of Israel, as well as the mostly Kurdish alliance being backed by the U.S. in Syria.

In an interview broadcast Sunday by Turkish stations TGRT Haber and Beyaz TV, Erdogan described Trump's shift both a "gift" to Netanyahu and a "serious mistake."

Jordan, which borders the Golan Heights, also broke with its U.S. ally. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi "reiterated Jordan's firm position that the Golan is occupied Syrian territory in accordance with all international resolutions that clearly and explicitly state that land can not be seized by force" in a statement released Friday by the official Jordan News Agency. The ministry itself reiterated this stance Monday. The kingdom, once a supporter of Syrian insurgents, has reopened its border crossing and pushed for closer ties with Damascus, which retook the south last year in an offensive backed by Russia and Iran.

Egypt—which, along with Jordan, was one of two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel—affirmed "its firm position that the Syrian Golan is occupied Arab land in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy" in a foreign ministry statement published Friday. Egypt and Syria were among the leading powers to battle Israel in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 and Cairo fought its own conflict with the neighboring state in 1956.

Israeli soldiers stand guard at the Quneitra border crossing of the Golan Heights, on March 23, ahead of demonstrations against President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Israel's occupation of the disputed region in southwestern Syria. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Other close U.S. partners perhaps more skeptical of Iran—accused of supporting allied groups in the region near the Golan Heights—than Israel stayed relatively quiet, with regional frustration instead being voiced by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a geopolitical union that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani and Assistant Secretary-General for Political affairs and Negotiation Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg criticized Trump's position on the Golan Heights in articles published by the U.A.E.'s Al-Bayan and Saudi Arabia's Arab News, respectively.

Bahrain and the U.A.E. have moved to reopen their embassies in Syria, signaling a shift in the regional isolation the country has faced after being suspended from the Arab League in 2011. While a number of the group's members have pushed for Syria's return, the U.S. has pushed against it and the Arab League has announced that the issue would not be on the agenda for its next meeting to be held at the beginning of next month in Tunisia.

Iraq, which kept up close ties with both the Iranian and Syrian axis as well as the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), argued that recognizing Israel's control of the Golan Heights was "giving legitimacy to the occupation and contrary to international law."

Beyond the Arab World, close Assad allies Iran and Russia both joined the international outcry over Trump's move. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi blasted the "arbitrary and impulsive" U.S. decision, calling Israel an "occupying regime" that "does not have sovereignty over any Arab or Islamic territories." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told Russia radio that "it may escalate tensions in the Middle East," according to the semi-official Tass news agency.

China called on all parties to respect existing law as established by the U.N., which reiterated that its stance had not been altered. The French, German and U.K. Foreign Ministries have also all rejected Trump's change, as has the E.U., recalling the global reaction to the White House's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, also claimed by Palestinians. The vote was condemned in a 128-9 vote by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2017.