Russia has reportedly rebuffed an Israeli demand to ensure that Iranian forces and Iran-backed Shiite militants not be allowed to operate within 60-80 kilometers of the Syrian frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights.
The demand was initially raised by Israel in July, when negotiations were under way for a ceasefire deal in southern Syria between President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels, under the auspices of the Washington and Moscow.
Russian has rejected the plea, according to reports Thursday on Israel’s Channel 2 TV and in the Haaretz newspaper. Instead, it has committed only to keeping Iranian forces five kilometers from the Golan Heights frontier.
Israel had wanted a buffer zone of between 60 and 80 kilometers from the border on the Golan Heights, and has been repeatedly warning against Iran’s military ambitions in the area, Tehran’s bid to establish a territorial “corridor” all the way to the Mediterranean, and an increased Iranian presence on Israel’s northern border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the ceasefire deal, putting him publicly at odds with US President Donald Trump, since it did not sufficiently address Israel’s security needs.
Israeli intelligence expects the Iranians to try to establish a military and intelligence presence closer to the border to allow for the opening of a second front against Israel in the event of another conflagration between the Jewish state and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization in Lebanon, Haaretz said.
It said Iran plows around $800 million per year into Hezbollah and additional hundreds of millions into the Assad regime in Syria, Shi’ite militias fighting in Syria and Iraq, and Shi’ite Houthi insurgents in Yemen. (It also supports the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in the Gaza Strip to the tune of $70 million annually.)
Israel sees attempts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to improve the latter’s missile accuracy as a major threat.
A week ago, Israeli warplanes allegedly struck the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility near Masyaf, in the northwestern Hama province, damaging several buildings and killing two Syrian soldiers.
Western officials have long associated the CERS facility with the production of precision missiles, as well as chemical weapons.
Over the past five years, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes within Syria, hitting conveys of weapons bound for Hezbollah, as well as weapons storage facilities.
It rarely acknowledges specific attacks. Last Thursday’s operation was reported by foreign media.
On his current trip to Latin America, Netanyahu has stressed the dangers posed by Iran, through its quest for nuclear weapons, its involvement in conflicts across the region, and via terrorism.
The Iranians “have a terror machine that encompasses the entire world, operating terror cells in many continents,” he said in Argentina on Tuesday. “In the case of Iran, it’s not only merely terror but the quest for nuclear weapons that concerns us and should concern the entire international community. We understand the danger of a rogue nation having atomic bombs.”