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Canada Canada, Israel close despite differences on Golan Heights recognition, envoy says

Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan shown during a session of the UNESCO General Conference, in Paris on Nov. 8, 2013.

Jacques Brinon/The Associated Press

Israel disagrees with Canada’s position on the Golan Heights and the effectiveness of the Iran nuclear deal, but the country’s envoy still believes the Trudeau government’s broader Middle East policy is very supportive.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan said Canada-Israel relations are like a long-married couple: they may have disagreements, but they are still close.

Barkan said evidence of the enduring bond is that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will hold several high-profile events with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a two-day visit next week.

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The latest bump in the relationship came this week with President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic patch of land separating Israel from Syria.

Trump reversed a half century of U.S. foreign policy and left his country offside with the international community, including Canada, which regards the Golan Heights as Israeli-occupied territory.

Canada affirmed its support for the international consensus on the Golan Heights this week, as it did for the Iran nuclear deal after the U.S withdrew from that last year – another move the Israeli government applauded.

“We’re like a married couple in many respects. There are some issues where we disagree – Golan Heights, JCPOA stuff like that – but beyond that it’s very close,” Barkan said in an interview.

Barkan used the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action originally brokered in 2015 between Iran and the U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and the European Union. Trump withdrew the U.S. in May 2018.

Israel lobbied widely against the deal, including dispatching its top intelligence official to Ottawa last year. The top spy argued the deal was flawed and would not prevent Iran from using peaceful nuclear technology to develop a weapon.

“It is still a point of disagreement,” said Barkan, noting that Canada has helped ensure diligent inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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“At the same time, Canada has a very strong sanctions regime on Iran,” he said. “Overall, analytically, Canada sees Iran’s behaviour in the region in the same way Israel sees it, both in Syria, in Lebanon, in Iraq and in issues that are non-geographic, such as missile testing and the question of long-range or immediate-range missiles.”

Barkan praised Canada’s broader spending of billions of dollars to help Syrian refugees, stabilize Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq – the latter which includes Canadian Armed Forces trainers.

Israel wasn’t surprised by Canada’s statement on the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, said Barkan.

The statement from Global Affairs Canada said annexing territory by force is prohibited under international law, and that “any declaration of a unilateral border change goes against the foundation of the rules-based international order.”

“Canada is a steadfast friend of Israel. We stand with Israel and support Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbours.”

Barkan said the disagreement is fine, given “the second part of the statement” affirming friendship.

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“Canada has other considerations. The Ukraine I guess,” Barkan said, declining to elaborate further.

Trump’s proclamation said the Golan Heights presented “unique circumstances,” wording interpreted as addressing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, which Canada and its Western allies regard as an illegal breach of Europe’s borders by the Kremlin.

The New Democrat’s foreign affairs critic, Guy Caron, has urged the government to send a diplomatic note to the Trump administration condemning the decision.

The Palestinian General Delegation to Ottawa welcomed the Canadian statement, saying it reflects a “strong commitment” to international law.

Amnesty International called the new Golan Heights recognition “irresponsible, reckless and yet another example of the Trump Administration violating international law and consensus by condoning Israel’s illegal annexation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu viewed it as a “major achievement” in Israel’s fight to protect itself from its enemies bent on using Syria as a staging ground, Barkan said.

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“We are witnessing the Iranian attempt to use the Golan Heights and the area around the Golan Heights together with Hezbollah … in order to prepare for potential terrorist attacks against Israel,” he said.

“The Americans have bolstered our ability to meet the Iranian challenge.”

Barkan strongly dismissed suggestions that Trudeau’s relationship with Netanyahu has waned in recent years, especially since he invited Trudeau to join a small group of international guests at his Jerusalem home following the 2016 funeral of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres.

He pointed to Rivlin’s visit and the large amount of time he will spend with Trudeau, adding Rivlin would have stayed longer if his wife was not in intensive care following a lung transplant two weeks ago.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will formally welcome Rivlin – her counterpart – for a visit that begins Sunday and ends Tuesday.

Trudeau will host a lunch for Rivlin in Ottawa, hold a meeting in his Parliament Hill office and lay a wreath with him at the Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa. The two will also participate in an event with the Canadian Jewish community in Toronto.

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