Israel waited 10 days from Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s announcement in Hamburg of their ceasefire plan for southwestern Syria along the borders with Jordan and Syria, before proclaiming its “total opposition” to the plan.
On Sunday, July 16, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced publicly, after meeting President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, that the plan was unacceptable. An official in the party that accompanied him to the Elyse Palace explained to reporters that Israel objected to a truce that could be used as a vehicle for “perpetuating” Iran’s presence in Syria and on its own border.
Iran is not just sending advisers to Syria, the official said, but large-scale military forces to establish in Syria an airbase for Iranian aircraft and a naval base for Iran’s navy.
According to DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources, Israel was finally galvanized into making an unqualified stand against the ceasefire plan by discovering how it was being implemented: When last week Russian troops moved into Daraa in southern Syria to police the ceasefire in that embattled town, the Syrian army withdrew – but the Hezbollah forces fighting with Assad’s army did not.
A few days later, Hezbollah’s elite Kalibat Radwan brigade was seen digging in at Daraa, 1km from the Jordanian border, and preparing to resume the offensive at a moment’s notice for driving Syrian rebels from the town. This was despite the assurances Washington and Moscow had broadcast that the departure of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the ceasefire zones would be ascertained. Since Quneitra is the next zone scheduled for the application of the ceasefire, Israel requested clarifications from Washington and Moscow.
RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR QUNEITRA IN DEFIANCE OF ISRAEL
Russian army units are preparing to move into the Syrian town of Quneitra in the coming days and take up positions opposite the Syrian-Israeli Golan border, DEBKAfile reports exclusively from military sources.
Their function is to police the second zone of southwestern Syria designated for ceasefire by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin when they met in Hamburg on July 7.
Quneitra is just 5km from Israel’s border and the line of IDF positions defending it. Israel has notified Washington and Moscow that it is flatly opposed to the presence of a Russian unit on its border. However, the US and Russian officers coordinating the ceasefire’s implementation agreed to recommend going forward with the Russian deployment.
The White House and the Kremlin gave the officer’s recommendation the green light, virtually imposing it on Israel against its will. Their argument is that the first ceasefire zone that was established last week in the Daraa front on the Jordanian border will quickly break down if it is not shored up by a second zone at Quneitra.
The understandings drawn up for Daraa between the US, Russia and Jordan, included a clause explicitly providing for the withdrawal of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, including Hezbollah, to a point 40km west or north of the demilitarized town.
This clause never stood up for one moment. As DEBKAfile first disclosed on July 16, even after Russian and Chechen troops moved into Daraa on Sunday, Syrian and Iranian forces did move out, but an elite Hezbollah unit remained. The US, Russia and Jordan decided collectively to let this breach of the ceasefire deal go without response and tried to keep it dark.
The absence of any Trump-Putin commitment on this score leaves Israel fully exposed to the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces within mortar range of its Golan border in an area supervised by their ally, the Russian military.