Israel signaled Sunday it will not be bound by a reported ceasefire deal in southern Syria reached by the United States, Russia and Jordan, with ministers indicating Israel will continue to operate across the border when it deems it necessary.
The agreement, announced in a US-Russian statement Saturday, affirms a call for “the reduction, and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria.
According to reports, the deal includes Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told The Associated Press the agreement is a positive development. But he stressed that Israel is not a party to the agreement and will defend its interests.
“We have proved that before and we will prove it again in the future,” Katz said.
While the agreement seeks to remove Iranian-backed militias from near the border, a key Israeli demand, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said it did not go far enough.
The pact “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand that there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north,” Hanegbi told reporters Sunday, according to a Reuters report.
“There’s reflection here of the understanding that Israel has set red lines, and will stand firm on this,” Hanegbi said.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the deal, he and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have long said Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence along the Golan nor allow Iran to entrench itself military in Syria.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani confirmed no non-Syrian fighters would be allowed in the “de-escalation zone” under the agreement, which he said was built on a previous ceasefire reached in July.
He also said the deal was a “key step” in ending the fighting in Syria and would help lead to a political solution to the Syrian civil war, according to the country’s al-Ghad newspaper.
Following the announcement of the previous ceasefire agreement in southern Syria brokered by the US and Russia, Netanyahu came out against the deal, saying it did not sufficiently address Iran’s military ambitions in the area.
The prime minister said that while the plan aimed to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Iran’s plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases.
The reports on the new ceasefire agreement came after the BBC published satellite photos on Friday said to show the construction of a permanent Iranian military base in Syria.
According to the BBC report, the base is situated at a site used by the Syrian army near El-Kiswah, 14 kilomters (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.
Also over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces shot down a Syrian drone above the Golan Heights, as it approached the border with Israel.
Israeli security officials said the drone’s operators had deliberately attempted to fly the aircraft across the Israeli border from Syria, but the craft was shot down before it crossed into Israel.
Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.