Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that a ceasefire deal in southern Syria brokered by Washington and Moscow took into consideration Israel’s security needs, despite Israeli concerns that it will enable an increased Iranian presence on Israel’s northern border.
Lavrov spoke to reporters after a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russian Tass news agency reported.
“I can guarantee that the American side and we did the best we can to make sure that Israel’s security interests are fully taken into consideration,” he said.
On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposed the deal for an open-ended ceasefire in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.
Placing himself at odds with US President Donald Trump on the issue, Netanyahu told journalists in Paris that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state wouldn’t tolerate.
Channel 2 reported Monday that Israel “apparently wasn’t consulted” by the Trump Administration over the ceasefire terms.
The ceasefire, announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg earlier this month, was the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.
“Israel is aware of Iran’s expansionist goals in Syria,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. The prime minister added that he had brought up the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting earlier in the day.
He said that while the plan aims to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it does 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 premier’s comments Sunday were his first remarks explicitly condemning the ceasefire, after having gingerly endorsed the deal as it came into effect earlier this month.
Maj.-Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser of Netanyahu, said Monday that the new arrangements in southern Syria “were done without taking into consideration the need of Israel to defend itself.” In a briefing, he added that “Israel tried to make everyone understand its interests.”
Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.
The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.
But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.
The ceasefire for southern Syria is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks. This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.
“Having a direct corridor on land form Baghdad to Damascus would bring the Iranians, for the first time in history, a direct land corridor from Tehran… to the Mediterranean,” said Amidror. “That would allow the Iranians to be much more involved around Israel.
“It’s a long line, but it’s still very easy to move forces, capabilities — anything the Iranians want to build around Israel,” he added.
Ceasefires have repeatedly collapsed in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, and it’s not clear if this one will last. The southern Syria truce is separate from so far unsuccessful efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including in the south.
Israel is expected to watch for truce violations.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Hezbollah.
“We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces who win from the long and brutal war in Syria,” Amidror said, threatening that if Israel’s interests were not taken into account, “that might lead the IDF to intervene and to destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria.”
A Jordanian official said the international community, regional powers and Jordan would not tolerate the creation of a “land line all the way from Tehran to Beirut.”
Such a “Shiite crescent” would disrupt the regional balance and be considered a “super red line,” he said, referring to rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim political camps led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively.
Conflicts between the camps have escalated in recent years, including in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Predominantly Sunni Jordan is a US ally and maintains discrete security ties with Israel.
Washington has been resistant to letting Iranian forces and their proxies gain strength in Syria’s south. In recent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syrian aircraft that got too close to American forces as well as Iranian-made drones.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.