The US-Russian brokered cease-fire agreement and supported by Jordan in Southwestern Syria suggests that this time the two major powers have more interests to cooperate on their spheres of shared interests regardless of how partial and non-inclusive they could be. The deal claimed to be, one of major developments towards peace, may help in reducing differences between Pro Syrian Government militias and the Syrian opposition, but still this cease-fire may be difficult to sustain in the long run because interests of external players are still conflicting.
Israel opposes the cease-fire agreement in Southwestern Syria, Netanyahu told reporters on July 16, 2017 after a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron. The agreement, announced by the United States and Russia July 7 at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, perpetuates Iran’s presence in Syria Netanyahu further argued. The wording of the statement reflects that he was not talking about a disagreement rather indicating something beyond.
The way Natanyahu responded to the US-Russian-brokered cease-fire deal and open expression of concerns, depicts the level of annoyance how the emergence of agreement between Russia and U.S. irritated Israel. Over the past couple of months, Israel had been vigorously involved in the contacts between the parties that led to the deal of the cease-fire. Israel had a strong position in all important matters concerning the region discussed by the stakeholders—the southwest, which Israel borders. Israel participated in these talks with the Americans, Jordanians and Russians. It also conducted separate talks with each of the parties.
While these contacts and discussions were underway, Israel reiterated on various occasions that there must be no Hezbollah or Iranian presence whatsoever in the buffer zones that is going to be declared along the borders. Another demand was that Iran be prevented from establishing military bases in Syria, from creating or leasing a port along the Syrian coast and from rebuilding Syria’s arms industry. Israel perhaps think that the Americans conceded to the Russians, Natanyahu feels that there is no expression of Israeli concerns, in the agreement, at all. “Our security needs are completely ignored”, Natanyahu said, as reported by media. The question now is what will Israel do about it?
At the last moment, similar situation was created when P5+1 struck a Nuclear Deal with Iran during Obama administration. Now with a widespread speculation that President Trump is the ‘most supportive President of United States ever’ Netanyahu finds himself facing the same situation again.The only difference this time is that in these talks, Israel had a voice at the table before an agreement was concluded. This contrasts sharply with the situation during the Iranian nuclear talks, in which Israel was “kept out of the room” and had to rely on intelligence for information.
While both Russia and the United States appear to be determined to maintain the cease-fire, besides Israel, Islamist factions including the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) have also rejected it. Although as stated by Avi Melamed, the Salisbury Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs at the Eisenhower Institute said that “The recent US-Russia-Jordan understanding resulting in a cease-fire in southwest Syria complies with both Jordan and Israel’s needs to keep away the Iranians and their proxies from the Syrian-Jordanian border as well as the Golan Heights,” still Israel seems to be unhappy with the success of this cease-fire deal.
According to Syria Deeply, Israel has worked on creating a safe zone (for Israel) that runs 10 kilometers deep and 20 kilometers beyond the demarcation line of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Israel has funded and supported its own Free Syrian Army faction, which is known as the Knights of Golan Brigade. On the other hand in January 2015, Jihad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah member and son of Hezbollah’s military leader Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in the Syrian province of Quneitra near the Israeli Golan Heights. Four other Hezbollah fighters were killed in the strike, including Cmdr. Mohammad Issa, an Iranian commander in the Syrian Golan Heights, Abu Ali Al-Tabtabai and Ismail Al-Ashhab but despite all this Hezbollah had started to retreat from southern Syria, declared July 19 on Al-Arabiya by Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It seems that Russian apprehension of Israeli notions is more realistic that Israel is not concerned with the cease-fire. They apparently know that Israel’s major interest is to keep Iran away from Golan Heights and to eliminate Hezbollah, hence Russia is taking all the measures to defuse the situation. For example, it has deployed 400 separation forces in the last week in Southern Syria. Russia is also pushing for a political transition plan in Syria while preserving a minimum level of influence for each of the three parties in areas they deem vital for their national interests, however, given the widely divergent interests of the various parties involved, what lies ahead may perhaps prove too difficult a task for Moscow.
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