President Donald Trump on Monday reversed decades of U.S. policy, signing an executive order recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a plateau east of the Sea of Galilee known in Bible times as the region of Bashan.
Trump cited strategic and security reasons in a tweet March 21 announcing the surprise policy change.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “Purim miracle,” referring to a Jewish festival celebrating how God saved the Jewish people through Esther from the evil Haman and the Persians.
Asked about it in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it is possible that God similarly raised up President Trump to help save the Jewish people from the menace of modern day Persia, Iran.
“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo replied. “It was remarkable – so we were down in the tunnels where we could see 3,000 years ago, and 2,000 years ago – if I have the history just right – to see the remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian at home with what he calls the “faith-based media,” indicated at a 2015 God and country rally in Kansas that he believes in the rapture, an end-times concept embraced by certain Christians as preceding the Second Coming of Christ.
It’s part of a system called dispensationalist theology articulated in a series of lectures in 1840 by an Anglo-Irish Bible teacher named John Nelson Darby.
James Robinson Graves, father of a Baptist movement called Landmarkism, spread similar views beginning in the 1850s through pages of the Tennessee Baptist – a newspaper today called Baptist and Reflector.
The Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909 and revised by the author in 1917, laid out in footnotes prophecy of a seven year period called the Tribulation, where the world and apostate church align with the antichrist, followed by Christ’s return as king of kings, ruling from the Promised Land city of Jerusalem.
Dispensationalism became popularized in the 1970s by American evangelist Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that sold more than 28 million copies, and between 1995 and 2007 by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in a 16-book series of religious novels titled Left Behind.
Rapture Christians celebrated last year’s move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a key development in fulfilling biblical prophecy.
Vice President Mike Pence, a professing Christian, once told evangelical supporters of Israel that God had a hand in creating the state of Israel and that his support for the country is rooted in his faith.
Speaking Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Pence called President Trump “the greatest friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel ever to sit in the Oval Office of the White House.”
“The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats,” the proclamation read in part. “Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel.”
“Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats,” the proclamation continued. “Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Netanyahu called for international recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel last week while meeting with Pompeo in Israel. On Thursday afternoon they visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall, marking the first-ever visit of a top U.S. diplomat accompanied by an Israeli official to visit the holy site in disputed territory considered by the majority of the international community as not under Israel’s sovereignty.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 in the Six Day War and annexed it in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community. There are more than 30 Jewish settlements on the heights with an estimated 20,000 settlers. About 20,000 Syrians also live in the area, most of them members of the Druze sect, a religious and ethnic group dating back to the 11th century.
The Golan Heights’ altitude provides observation points deep into Syria. It also provides about one third of Israel’s water supply.
Syria slammed Trump’s move on the Golan Heights as “irresponsible,” saying it confirms “the blind bias of the United States to the Zionist entity.”
Trump supporter Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas who delivered a prayer at the ceremonial opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem last May, called the declaration “courageous.”
“When you oppose Israel, you are opposing the God of Israel,” Jeffress said on the Fox Business program Lou Dobbs Tonight.
John Hagee, head of the 5 million-member Christians United for Israel, said the group has stressed the Golan Heights’ importance to Israel’s security in meetings with the administration and other officials on Capitol Hill.
“We are very grateful to the President for having the courage to express that position and look forward to the US formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” said Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.
“When it was under Syrian control, the Golan Heights was used to attack Israeli civilians in the region below,” Hagee said. “During the Syrian civil war we saw all too well the brutality of the Assad regime, including the willingness of Damascus to use chemical weapons. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is the right policy and the time to enact that policy has come.”
Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat, author of the book Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, said U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights has more to do with U.S. and Israeli politics than with the region’s security.
“This is about the United States and Trump speaking to an evangelical base, rather, that doesn’t care for regional stability and international law, but is more concerned with seeing Israel establishing itself as a hegemon, within an Islamophobic framework that positions Israel as the easternmost front of the U.S.’s war on terror,” Erakat told the non-profit news organization Democracy Now!
The U.S. State Department referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled territory” in its annual human rights report for 2018, changing language used by previous administrations referring to it as “occupied territory.”
The State Department dropped the term “occupied” from a headline in the 2017 report but in 2018 scrubbed the word from the text describing both the Golan Heights and Gaza Strip, another territory seized by Israel in 1967.