Israel has rejected a Russian proposal to keep Iranian forces in Syria at least 100 kilometers from the Syrian-Israeli recognized ceasefire line along the Golan Heights, Reuters reports, while Israeli leadership has further threatened to hold Assad responsible "for any Iranian aggression".
According to the breaking report, which cites an unnamed Israeli official, the issue came up during a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a visiting Russian delegation led by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov:
The official said that Netanyahu told Lavrov "we will not allow the Iranians to establish themselves even 100 kilometres from the border."
And crucially, the official paraphrased the following exchange from the closed door meeting: "Netanyahu told Lavrov Israel will maintain freedom of operation against Iranian entrenchment in all of Syria and will see Assad responsible for any Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory because Assad is the one hosting the Iranians."
FM Lavrov is currently in Israel following a phone call between Netanyahu and Putin last Friday wherein the two leaders agreed that the Russian foreign minister and Russian army General Valery Gerasimov would head to Tel Aviv for urgent talks over Syria.
According to Israel's Channel 10 senior diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, the Israeli prime minister met with the Russian high level delegation for over two hours while accompanied by Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and IDF chief of staff General Gadi Aizenkot.
The meeting reportedly included the Israeli side presenting the Russians with maps and intelligence reports purporting to show Iran's presence in areas encroaching toward the border Golan border, as well as locations in the rest of Syria.
Extraordinary.— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) July 23, 2018
Acc. to @BarakRavid sources, #Russia has told #Israel that it'll seek to force #Iran 100km away from #Israeli-held 1974 #Golan line.
That means all territory west of the red line on map (L).
= A truly wild fantasy.
Look where #Iran is now (R); per @ETANA_Syria: pic.twitter.com/rJ8Emn6i6n
According to Ravid's source: "The Israeli official said Israel's goal is to get all Iranian and pro-Iranian forces out of the entire Syrian territory but the Russians want, in the first phase, to push the Iranians 65 miles from the Israeli border."
The Israeli unnamed official privy to the meeting said further: "The Russian proposal is fine, but eventually we need to get the Iranians from Syria completely. Netanyahu told Lavrov Israel will not accept Iranian military entrenchment – not in the areas near the border with Israel and not in the rest of Syria."
Netanyahu reportedly told Lavrov, as paraphrased by the source: Iran needs to take all of its long range missiles and weapons out of Syria, stop the production of precision munitions in Syria and take all its air defense systems out of Syria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this evening at the Prime Minister's Office with a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. pic.twitter.com/jF1iwgAjKq— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) July 23, 2018
According to Ravid, "Netanyahu also demanded from Lavrov all border crossings between Syria and Lebanon be monitored to prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah and border crossings between Iraq and Syria be monitored to prevent infiltration of Shiite militias into Syria from Iraq.
Axios summarizes the list of demands made by the Israeli side as follows:
- Iran needs to take all of its long range missiles and weapons out of Syria.
- Iran needs to stop the production of precision munitions in Syria.
- Iran needs to take all its air defense systems out of Syria.
- The border crossings between Syria and Lebanon needs to be monitored to prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah from Syria.
- The border crossings between Iraq and Syria needs to be monitored to prevent infiltration of Shiite militias into Syria from Iraq.
Previously on Sunday, the same day that an overnight evacuation of hundreds ofWhite Helmets members and their families by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) took place at the Golan border, Israeli jets carried out a major airstrike on a Syrian government facility in northwest Syria in Hama province, reportedly a chemical weapons complex. a chemical weapons complex.
Over the weekend Netanyahu had warned in what's become a familiar refrain throughout at least the past three years that Israel is continuously acting against Iran’s military activities in Syria: “We will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there,” he said in a prior statement.
Though by many accounts the situation in Syria's south is stabilizing as the government is fast securing the border with Jordan after a major offensive against FSA, al-Qaeda, and ISIS factions in the region, the possibility for further clashes between Israel and Damascus remains high, as we've previously warned many times.
In the past months there's been widespread reporting on a "secret" deal brokered between Russia, Israel, and Syria, which reportedly involves the Syrian Army agreeing to keep Iranian forces away from the ongoing campaign along the Israeli and Jordanian borders, especially the contested Golan Heights.
But with today's breaking news of Israel's rejection of Russian overtures, whatever tenuous deal that was possibly already in place as part of a phased plan could now be officially off.