A cease fire agreement is supposed to lead to a more stable, lasting political arrangement, hopefully a peace treaty, but in the Middle East sometimes, a ceasefire agreement can achieve the opposite. The latest ceasefire in South West Syria, agreed upon between the US and Russia, can possibly provide one such example. For a long time, this blog called attention to the potentially explosive situation in this region of Syria, particularly due to its proximity to the borders with Jordan and Israel. and even more so, to the presence of Hizballah, other Shi’ite militias, probably also elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Under these circumstances, it may sound as good news when the US and Russia announce a ceasefire there, but not this time.
This is so, because this is an arrangement which was achieved without a key player, the State of Israel. While the Israeli PM Netanyahu was in constant touch with both the Trump administration and President Putin himself, the agreement was NOT coordinated with Israel, and Netanyahu made it very clear in public, not mincing his words, claiming that Israel rejects this agreement. It is here where some context is needed. Israel made it clear for a long time, that while it has no horse in the Syrian civil war, unlike other regional actors, which either are bent on a Syria without Assad, or alternatively, support Assad, it still is strict on two issues. First, that the fighting in South Syria will not expand, whether intentionally or accidentally to its own territory in the Golan, and that Iran and its stooges, chiefly Hizballah, will not turn Syria to yet another anti-Israel active front. For that reason, the Israelis tried on numerous occasions, to stop the flow of arms to Hizballah via Syria, and aerial attacks on arms convoys in various parts of Syria, were done and effectively so, with tacit approval by the Russians, and public one by the Americans.
So far so good, so what is wrong with the new ceasefire in South Syria? Russian FM Levrov was quick to assure Israel that its vital security interests were taken into account, and it is clear that such assurances were provided by the Trump administration, and yet PM Netanyahu is publicly upset. It is for one main reason-while pro-Iranian forces are, according to unverified reports, to withdraw for twenty kilometers from the Israeli border, there is NO limit on these forces, and Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards from staying in Syria, build bases there, lease existing naval and aerial bases, and continuing to send reinforcements and arms to Hizballah in Lebanon. There is no reason for any of this, other than enabling Iran and its stooges to prepare a war against Israel, and this is exactly what a responsible PM of Israel should be rightly worried about. In fact, being very worried. Netanyahu hears the voices from Iran and Beirut, reads the very clear intelligence reports and understands, that a big war is being planned. He and any other Israeli leader cannot afford it happening, but the question is what are Israel’s options.
One, of course, is to apply diplomatic pressure on both the US and Russia, to come to a broader agreement about Syria, including a very specific demand for complete Iranian pull out from Syria, as well as blocking completely the possibility of using Iraqi territory from being the route through which the Iranians move troops and arms to Syria. Russia is not likely to agree to it, but the US rhetorically is committed to prevent the Iraqi-Syrian border from becoming Iran’s equivalent of the Ho Chi Min trail, but beyond rhetoric, not much was done about that, and the trail is operating, alongside the continuing Iranian-Hizballah rhetoric about the desire to go to war with Israel. American policy in Syria under Trump is still incoherent and the very last agreement with Russia about South West Syria indicates that the Americans are very keen on coming to terms with Putin rather than conducting a sustained action against Iran. Secretary Tillerson reporting every three months to Congress on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, does refer to the rogue state support for terrorism, but then words are not actions.
In the absence of American action, there will HAVE to be an Israeli action, and it is therefore very advisable to those who do not want to see another flare up, or outright war between Israel and Hizballah and Iran, to take PM Netanyahu’s warning very seriously. He has his hands full with domestic personal political issues, but when it comes to Iran and the Hizballah, he speaks for the vast majority of Israelis when he categorically calls attention to the growing Iranian danger.