Since Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has viewed the northern plateau east of the Sea of Galilee, known as the Golan Heights, as a strategic asset in Israel’s defenses against Syria.
Thus the Golan was the first area secured by Israel in the war which was settled by Israelis, with the founding of Merom Golan in July 1967 – just one month after the end of the war.
In the intervening 51 years, however, Israeli settlement of the Golan has expanded slowly, especially in comparison to the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria. While more than 400,000 Jews were living in Judea and Samaria by 2017, the number of Israeli citizens in the Golan is just 22,000 – not including a similar number of Syrian Druze who refused to accept full citizenship.
No full-fledged cities have been established in the Golan, with the largest Israeli community being the town of Katzrin, home to roughly 7,000 residents.
Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, though the US, United Nations, and most world powers have refused to recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan – though the US Congress may soon consider a proposal to recognize the Israeli annexation.
With the Syrian civil war stretching into its 8th year, and the expansion of Iran’s military presence near Israel’s northern border, solidifying Israel’s control over the Golan has again become a key security issue, says Deputy Minister and former Ambassador to the US Michael Oren (Kulanu).
Oren is pushing a plan to massively increase Israeli settlement on the Golan, in the hopes of doubling the number of Israelis in the area within the next decade.
“We’ve been settling the Golan for more than 50 years now, but there are just 22,000 Israeli citizens there,” said Oren. “The Golan is an inseparable part of the character of the State of Israel, and we must develop the area.”
“This is not just a demographic or moral issue, but a serious security threat. Iran is working to replace the local Sunni population with Shi’ite forces [on the Syrian side of the Golan], and to establish itself militarily in Syria in order to turn the Golan into a new front with Israel. We have a window of time that is critical to take advantage of – our presence there is important to the security of the State of Israel, the Middle East, and the world.”
Under Oren’s plan, the government would establish a new committee dedicated to expanding Israeli settlement in the Golan and would offer new incentives to Israelis moving to the Golan, promote improvements to the infrastructure in the Golan, and expand public transportation inside the Golan and the surrounding area.