14.11.2017 Author: Petr Lvov

Iran vs Israel: Things Went South


It’s been noted time and time against that an abrupt increase in the level of tensions observed today in the Middle East can be attributed to the steps that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been taking. In addition to the uneasy situation with Lebanon, Tel-Aviv kicked its propaganda efforts into high gear in a bid to sow discord among the opposing parties in Syria.

The other day, while acting on Israel’s demand, the BBC announced Iran was allegedly building a military camp at the base of the Syrian Armed Forces in the town of Al-Kiswah, less than ten miles south of Damascus. The credibility of this statement is doubtful, especially in the light of the claims that a new transit base Iranian troops is being created, that would allow them to be quickly dispatched in Lebanon. The images of this site bear no trace of such activities. But this did not prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from immediately announcing that Israel will not allow Iran’s military presence along its borders. It’s been automatically assumed in Tel-Aviv that Iran wants to gain a foothold within the Golan Heights territory that Israel keeps occupying illegally. One can even come across a number of reports stating that Iran allegedly planning to create a naval base in Syria, which will allow its submarines to patrol the waters in the immediate vicinity of the Israeli coast. The Israelis also claim that Tehran wants to bring ground-to-surface missiles to Syria and Lebanon to able to launch strikes deep inside the Israeli territory.

At the same time, the fact that Israel has repeatedly launched unilateral strikes against Syrian and Lebanese positions deep inside the Syrian territory is deliberately omitted.

At the same time pro-Israeli media sources are trying to show that both Washington and Moscow are somehow supporting the positions of Tel-Aviv. It’s allegedly been announced that the issue of Iranian military presence near Israeli borders was discussed with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu during his recent visit to Israel. Some media sources go as far as to claim that this issue was discussed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Tehran on November 1.

In the development of this information campaign of Tel Aviv and Washington, the statement that was issued by US State Department on November 11 looks rather bizarre. It announces that Russia has pledged its support to the withdrawal of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces from south-west Syria, even though nobody would discuss this issue during the summit in Da Nang.

According to this statement, Washington believes that this issue is important since the presence of foreign combatants allegedly undermines the cease-fire and threatens Israel and Jordan. It has already been statement that the memorandum of understanding signed in Da Nang reflects the commitment of the United States, Russia and Jordan to exclude the presence of non-Syrian forces from the conflict. According to Washington, among such forces one can find Iranian forces, Iran-backed militia groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, and foreign jihadists working with Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups in the south-western parts of Syria. It’s clear that Russia is determined to push radical jihadists out of Syria, but how could it agree to assist Washington in pushing Iran and pro-Iranian forces from those regions of Syria that share a common border with Jordan and the Golan Heights, that are still occupied by Israel. Maybe Washington wants Moscow to go to war with Tehran? Especially in a situation when Damascus would not be able to survive the Islamist onslaught for two months without the presence of Iranian troops. And what fate would await Russian military bases in Syria then?

It’s most curious that a pretty well-known and pretty competent Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, would announce on his Twitter that:

The United States, Russia and Jordan have signed a final version of the cease-fire agreement in southern Syria, in which buffer zones will be established. The parties have added a clause under which the three countries will ensure the removal of all Iranian forces from these areas.

Shortly before that he would report that Israeli officials would hold secret talks with representatives of Russia and the United States in early July, during which an agreement was reached on the creation of zones of deescalation in southern part of Syria. He also claims that during these alleged meetings high-profile Israeli officials were objecting to a possible agreement between Russia and the United States, since it had no clause about the withdrawal of Iranian armed forces from Syria, since they are clearly going to stay there even after the official end of the Syrian conflict.

It’s curious that after the official announcement of the terms of the agreement on Syria, Tel-Aviv would be pretty vocal in expressing its disappointment with the fact that the so-called “Iranian factor” was not taken into account in this document. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the agreement on the creation of a deescalation zone in southern Syria as “a very bad one”, since it legitimizes the presence of the Iranian military forces in this country.

On July 16, Netanyahu discussed the topic of the “southern zone of deescalation in Syria” with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And here it is appropriate to recall that the ceasefire agreement in Syria was agreed upon at the meetings of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in Hamburg. Formally, the ceasefire agreement in Syria entered into force on July 9. It encompasses the territories of Daraa, Kuneitra and Al-Suwayda, including those zones that are adjacent to the Israeli and Jordanian borders. The treaty between supporters and opponents of the Bashar al-Assad government was concluded due to the mediation work of Russia, the United States and Jordan.

On July 8, at a press conference following the G20 summit in Hamburg, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Washington’s position has become more pragmatic. Putin announced that the talks between all the parties involved resulted in the drafting of an agreement on the southern zone of deescalation. In general, the settlement scheme that was put forward by Moscow and its allies implies that the authority of the Bashar al-Assad government would be preserved, while new zones of deescalation will reduce hostilities in southern parts of Syria. At the same time, as stated in the article featured in the Daily Beast, the common goal is the victory over the terrorist formation of the Islamic State, while the intermediate goal has been state as the resumption of coordination between the Russian and American military in Syria aimed at avoiding accidental clashes. On July 6, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Washington is ready to explore the possibility of no-fly zones creation in cooperation with Russia along with other mechanisms that must ensure stability.

Against this backdrop, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz would announce that Tel-Aviv insists that the deescalation zones must be controlled by American military personnel. The leadership of Israel has repeatedly stressed that it won’t tolerate the presence Iranian armed forces or the Lebanese Hezbollah in the immediate vicinity of its borders. On July 9, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman would announce, while commenting the ceasefire agreement in Syria, that Israel retains complete freedom of action, even though it contradicts the agreements between Trump and Putin. Hence, the question of who will be ensuring compliance with the ceasefire agreement in southern Syria remains open.

The dispute over who is to control deescalation zones near Daraa has become a point of contention between regional players.

The dispute over who is to control deescalation zones near Daraa has become a point of contention between regional players.

So the information we have is contradictory. So far, apparently, we are to believe to what is said in the joint Russian-American document of November 11 about the success of the ceasefire initiative, that implies the reduction and ultimately the removal of foreign forces and foreign militants from the southern parts of Syria which must ensure a more lasting peace. The monitoring of parties’ compliance with the ceasefire agreement will be carried out by the Amman Monitoring Center with the participation of experts from Russia, Jordan and the United States. It should also be noted that while the document mentions the Geneva peace process, there is not a single word about the Astana talks in it. That means that Turkey and Iran have been left on the sidelines. Even the Geneva process has been put aside together with all the arrogance of John Kerry.

Even before the summit in Da Nang, Moscow was the only party of the conflict that would announce the withdrawal of its forces from Syria, leaving only two military bases behind.

However, repeated calls from Riyadh and Tel Aviv to solve the Syrian issue in accordance with their own preferences jeopardizes international efforts. The escalation of anti-Iranian hysteria is clearly putting the region in a dangerous situation. In recent days, the world has been watching how Riyadh is said to be ready to start a war against Iran and the Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. We see how the ambitions of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman driving the entire Middle Eastern region over the edge, while Israel occupies the position behind the driving wheel now.

In the meantime, one would want to believe that logics will ultimately prevail and Tel Aviv will not get involved in yet another military adventure together with the Saudi prince who is obviously blinded by his uncontrolled ambition. Since he’s not just risking to draw Syria’s neighbors into a major conflict, but such global players as Russia and the United States can as well found themselves drawn into it.

Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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