Can Putin keep Hizballah from Israel’s borders?

Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon were on edge this week, as Prime Minister Binyamin prepared to raise Israel’s concerns about southern Syria at a critical meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem noted that he would be accompanied by Mossad Director Yossie Cohen. He has just returned from a failed attempt in Washington to draw the Trump Administration’s attention to the deteriorating security situation on Israel’s northern borders, where Russian Muslim troops are already in position.

Our sources report that he left Washington empty-handed for three reasons:

1. The White House was inundated in political crises on the home front.

2.  President Donald Trump had resolved to cut to the bone any US military involvement in the Syria conflict outside of the war on the Islamic State.

3.  Trump refused to hear of any compromise on his deal with Putin for cooperating in Syria, especially in the creation of de-escalation zones for gradually winding down the conflict.
Israel, like Jordan, repeatedly put forward objections to this arrangement, especially in relation to its Golan border with Syria. Neither Washington nor Moscow was interested.

This week, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Amman to discuss Jordan’s concerns about the pro-Iranian Shiite militias landing close to its border with Syria.
Both their concerns were borne out in the last few days, when the Syrian army and its pro-Iranian Shiite allies including Hizballah launched four simultaneous warfronts at Deir ez-Zor in the east, Sweida in the southeast, Hama in the center and the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border in the west – all with Russian air support, often including paratroop drops.
Gaining the upper hand on those four fronts, our sources point out, will restore Syria’s border regions with Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to their status quo ante the outbreak of the 2011 civil war,  and bring Israel’s enemies closer than ever before to its northern door.

Their rapid battle momentum will effectively override the effect of the de-escalation zones established by the two presidents on two of Syria’s borders – with Russian support! Their Sweida offensive has already brought the Syrian army and Hizballah right up to the Jordanian border by circling around the Daraa de-escalation zone – under Russian cover.
This tactic is expected to be repeated in short order in the Quneitra zone which faces Israel’s Golan border, even though Russian troops are installed there as monitors, just as they are in Daraa..  
Furthermore, as Syrian government and pro-Iranian forces gain ground, the Syrian anti-Assad rebel front is breaking up, except for the Islamic State and other Islamist groups. Some former rebels are throwing in the towel or crossing the lines to Assad’s army. The disintegration of the Syrian resistance, if not halted, will sooner or later reach the rebel groups entrenched on the Syrian Golan. Israel will then see the buffer which served it as a security barrier for the past four years melting away.

Even if a Russian guarantee against Syrian and pro-Iranian forces reaching the Golan border is offered by Putin to calm Netanyahu’s worries, it will be of limited value – first, it was refused by Washington and second, it is unlikely to be respected. Although Russia is in a dominant position for determining Syria’s agenda, it is not the sole arbiter in Damascus. Iran and Hizballah – and even Bashar Assad – are quite capable of taking matters in their own hands and embarking on a limited expedition for heating up the border with Israel – if only as a reminder to Putin, Trump and Netanyahu that Israel will not be permitted to determine the situation on that border, only their own interests.



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