US officials have agreed to let Iranian-backed militias take up positions in Syria less than ten kilometers from the Israeli Golan Heights, the Arabic daily Asharq Al Awsat reported Thursday.
The report appeared to back up Russian media claims that Moscow has ignored pleas from Israel to prevent Iran from exploiting Syria’s ongoing civil war to expand its military influence into Syrian territory.
Citing unnamed Western diplomatic sources, the report said a US team that was holding talks with their Russian counterparts in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the nationality of observer forces overseeing a July truce, backed down on some of their initial demands.
The report said the US agreed that Iranian-backed militias could be positioned as close as 8-16 kilometers (five to ten miles) from the Jordanian border and the Golan Heights, less than half the originally sought 32 kilometers (20 miles) distance.
In July, the Times of London reported that Israel was pushing Russia and the US for an agreement that would prevent “Hezbollah or other Iranian-backed militias” from operating in the area, which would extend some 30 miles (48 kilometers) beyond the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group that acts as a proxy of Iran, has been fighting on behalf of the Syrian President Bashar Assad in his efforts to suppress a six-year long insurgency. Russia, an ally of both Syria and Iran, has also provided military assistance in the war.
The US negotiators also agreed to let Russian observers police the truce zones, angering other US officials and allies of America. In particular, Israeli officials are concerned that the Russian presence could limit its operations against targets in Syria, the report said.
In recent years there have been several airstrikes inside Syria, attributed to the Israel, that targeted alleged shipments of advanced weapons and rockets for Hezbollah. Israel has vowed to prevent the Shiite organization, which holds positions along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, from obtaining game-changing weaponry.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Sochi and entreated him to curb Iranian military expansion in Syria.
On Friday Pravda reported that while Putin told Netanyahu at their talks that “Israel is also an important partner for Russia in the region,” he stressed that “Iran is Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East” and declined to abandon Russia’s alliance with the Islamic Republic.
The Pravda report, citing unnamed sources present at the start of the meeting, said Netanyahu was “was too emotional and at times even close to panic” as he warned Putin against the threat Iran poses to Israel and regional stability. Israeli officials, among them Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin who had accompanied Netanyahu on the trip to Russia, dismissed the report as untrue.
Speaking to Israeli journalists in a conference call after the meeting, Netanyahu said he told Putin that Israel would take action if its “red lines” were crossed.
US, Jordanian, and Russian officials are also planning to meet in the coming days to discuss re-opening a border crossing from Jordan to Syria. While US and Jordanian officials would rather wait until forces have gained a firmer control on the region, Russian officials want to move ahead with opening the crossing, the Ashraq Al Awsat report said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.