Israel Concerned Syria De-Escalation Zone Will Bring Iran Closer to its Border

New ceasefire deal fails to constrain Iran's presence

A general view of destruction in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor
A general view of destruction in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor / Getty Images
November 17, 2017

Top Israeli officials have expressed concern over the ceasefire deal in southern Syria recently brokered by the United States, Russia, and Jordan, arguing the pact fails to constrain Iran's presence in the war-torn country.

The deal, signed Nov. 8, establishes a de-escalation zone in Syria's southwestern region bordering Israel and Jordan, allowing Iranian-backed forces to operate as close as 3.5 miles from the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

Israeli officials had demanded the buffer zone with Iran be at least 25 miles wide, but the agreed upon distances range from as little as 3.5 miles to 13 miles, depending on the position of opposition regime forces in the Syrian Golan.

A confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzachi Hanegbi, who serves as the regional cooperation minister, told reporters on Sunday the deal doesn't meet Tel Aviv's "unequivocal demands" to bar Iran and its proxies from the Golan.

Christopher Kozak, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said Israel's concerns are "well-founded." Kozak said the truce lacks an adequate enforcement mechanism to keep Iran and Hezbollah from positioning forces into the buffer zone.

"It's laughable to think [Iran or Hezbollah] would willingly cede influence in the area," he said. "The deal basically relies on Russia to police Iran's behavior. Russia is the only faction with forces on the ground to enforce the deal. Russia is presenting itself as an arbiter that is able and willing to police Iran's behavior and that's an idea we at ISW would challenge, as well as the Israelis."

Kozak said Israeli officials fear the deal will push Iran and Hezbollah's operations underground, rather than actually forcing Tehran to withdraw from the ceasefire zone. He said this would enable Iran and its proxies to continue establishing permanent military basing on the Golan border to prepare for a new front against Tel Aviv.

"If, for example, a war were to break out in Lebanon similar to the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, Iran and Hezbollah would be able to project power and force not only from southern Lebanon, but also from the Golan Heights border in Syria," he said. "This is something Israel is obviously very concerned about and they have expressed their willingness to take concrete action to prevent from occurring."

The Pentagon's failure to strike a deal effectively constraining Tehran in the region risks conflict between Israel and Iran that could ultimately spread into southern Lebanon, according to an ISW backgrounder released Wednesday.

Published under: Iran , Israel , Syria