Diplomacy

Israeli Officials: U.S.-Russia Ceasefire Deal in Syria Leaves Iran Too Close to Border

A recently announced ceasefire deal brokered between the United States, Russia and Jordan “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand” that neither Iranian nor any allied forces including Hezbollah be allowed near Israel’s border, Reuters reported Sunday.

Israel’s regional cooperation minister, Tzachi Hanegbi said that the deal “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand the there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north.”

The plan would involve separating the various factions apart, but would allow Iranian-backed forces to be as close as 5 to 7 kilometers (3.1 to 4.4 miles) from the Israel border with Syria on the Golan Heights, according to Israeli sources with knowledge of the agreement. Israel reportedly asked Russia to ensure that Iranian-allied troops be kept at least 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border of Israel as part of any ceasefire agreement.

Hanegbi wasn’t alone in expressing concerns about the close proximity of Iran and its allies in Syria to Israel.

Following the downing of a drone, thought to be of Syrian origin, by Israel over the weekend, and a report that Syria is building a permanent military base in Syria, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israel “will not allow the Shiite axis to be established in Syria as a base for action.”

“Even though we view favorably the agreement on the need to eliminate the foreign forces — namely, the Iranian forces, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias from the area — the test will be on the ground, not in words but in deeds,” Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said in reaction to the announcement of the ceasefire. He added, “Israel has already made it clear that it shall not accept Iran and its affiliates and proxies basing themselves in Syria, which will be a permanent threat and a constant source of tension, friction and instability.”

Despite the fact that the deal ignored Israeli concerns, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday at a Likud faction meeting that  he has “clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs.” He described Israel’s policy regarding Syria as “the right combination of firmness and responsibility.”

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr]