Will the US & Russia Impose their Syrian Ceasefire Deal on Israel?
Israel has thus far stood firm against every proposal Washington and Moscow has put forward for a force to police its northern borders under the extended ceasefire deal agreed by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on July 7 in Hamburg.
The prodding on Jerusalem to fall into line has become more impatient in light of two connected breakthroughs on Wednesday, July 12: Russian-Chechen troops took over the southern Syrian town of Daraa and so aborted the Syrian/Hizballah offensive against the rebels holding the town, and rescued the ceasefire. Second, the first Jordanian-Syrian border crossings reopened for traffic.
(See separate items on these events.)
The Trump administration and the Kremlin are convinced that if the initial truce is not extended and monitored to adjoining areas, especially Syria’s Golan border with Israel, fighting between the Syrian and rebel armies will soon flare up again around Quneitra and quickly ignite other fronts in Syria, so consigning their truce initiative to history.
Israel’s initial demand for Americans to police the deconfliction on its northern border was rejected on several counts: Washington has no wish to send more troops into Syria, especially so close to Damascus, and is against any further US military intervention in the Syrian conflict. The administration, furthermore, does not intend stepping outside the spheres of influence agreed with Moscow.
The US administration also understands that the injection of thousands of American troops into Syria for defending Israel’s borders would not go down well in the Arab capitals, which President Trump roped in for his new US-Arab Sunni grouping. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in sympathy with this perception.
Jerusalem has rejected a Russian deployment in the Quneitra sector on the lines of the Daraa arrangement, although Moscow has offered guarantees to prevent Iranian and Hizballah forces from reaching the Israeli border.
1. Israel does not believe the Russian army is in full control of Iranian and Hizballah military movements in Syria, or able to act against them. This distrust was fueled by reports of a recent meeting in Beirut between high Russian officers and Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, at which the Russians presented maps and asked his consent to Russian deployments on the Syrian-Israeli border and the Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli border triangle.
2. Jerusalem is loath to depend on the Russian army for defending its borders, or make it easy for Moscow to gather precise intelligence on IDF movements in northern and central Israel.
3. Israel’s preferred option is to leave the Syrian rebel forces it supports where they are opposite its northern border as a buffer force. This would preserve its army’s independence of action against hostile elements in all parts of Syria.
4. According to fresh intelligence reaching the IDF high command in Tel Aviv, Iran, Syria and Hizballah are preparing to shortly open a new shared front in the Qalamoun Mountains for seizing control of the highway links between Syria and Lebanon. Israel is dead against the opening up of cross-border routes between Syria and Hizballah just north of its western region, just as the Americans don’t want to see Iran making free with the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The Saudis have meanwhile floated an idea for solving the predicament:: A new Syrian army representing a wide range of rebel groups would be set up for policing Syria’s southern borders with Israel and Jordan with the primary function of blocking Iranian expansion.