Behind the scenes, Israel’s top priority right now seems to be preventing Iran from moving into south Syria.
The first signal that something was going wrong in south Syria came earlier this month, when Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that Israel rejects an American-Russian ceasefire in the south of the country.
To be clear, this is Israel publicly rejecting an arrangement brokered by the world’s two largest super powers, one of which is Israel’s closest and most important ally.
That could only mean one thing: Israel did not believe in Moscow and Washington’s ability to keep the Iranians out of South Syria.
The stakes in this situation are high. An approach by Iran or its proxies in Syria towards the Israeli border would result, it is fair to assume, in strikes by Israel.
Jerusalem has already declared a zero tolerance policy towards an Iranian presence on the Syrian Golan Heights.
This is an Israeli red line that will be enforced, no matter what the consequences.
Iran, together with Hezbollah, plus any one of Iran’s numerous Shi’ite militias in Syria, could try and set up shop in south Syria, and create missile bases against Israel.
Iran tried to do this in January 2015. Israel laid waste to those plans with an air strike, according to international reports, which killed senior IRGC and Hezbollah operatives.
Now, Russia and the US are arguing that the de-confliction zone they created in south Syria would keep the Iranians out. Israel, it has emerged, is far from convinced.
On Monday, the Israeli cabinet held a meeting with senior military and intelligence personnel to discuss the situation in south Syria, according to Haaretz.
During that meeting, the cabinet learned about the deconfliction zone arrangement. It seems like Israel thinks the arrangement is full of holes.
Excerpt from the report: “During the meeting, the ministers were briefed that the American-Russian announcement of the cease-fire in southern Syria was only an initial step, and that the two countries are now negotiating, alongside Jordan, all components of organizing the de-escalation zones. The central issue that remains unresolved is the question of who would guarantee those arrangements in the zones, monitor the cease-fire and guarantee no entry of Iranian, Hezbollah or Shi’ite militia forces.”
Jordan, it must be pointed out, is as concerned and threatened by an Iranian push into south Syria as Israel is.
Recent Iranian statements on this matter suggest that Iran is not taking the US-Russian deal very seriously.
Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, said his country’s presence in Syria did not depend on the agreement brokered by the United States and Russia, according to a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Information Center.
The Russian-American agreement, he said, would have “no effective practical effect on the presence of Iranian forces in Syria.”