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Israel doesn’t hide its disappointment at new Syria deal

Officials say a new deal between Russia and the United States only strengthens Iran’s hand in Syria

    The wreckage of an Israeli tank in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overlooking the border with Syria and the town of Quneitra
    The wreckage of an Israeli tank in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overlooking the border with Syria and the town of Quneitra Getty Images

    Israel has not even tried to hide its disappointment at a US-Russian deal on a ceasefire and post-war arrangements in southern Syria.

    The deal, also agreed by Jordan, included the stipulation that all foreign fighters – including Iran’s Quds Special Forces unit and the Shia militias like Hezbollah – will leave Syria.  

    But there was no timetable set for their departure and an Israeli demand that no Shia forces operate within 50 km of it was refused.

    The agreement places a limit of 20 km on most parts of the border, but this is as small as five in some parts.

     “Israel will continue to operate in Syria, including in southern Syria, according to our understanding and our security needs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that he made this clear to “our friends” in both Washington and Moscow.

    “Iran knows that we will not agree to their entrenchment in Syria,” Mr Netanyahu said, although he was careful not to publicly criticise either of the two powers involved in the agreement.

    Off the record, however, Israeli officials have admitted that Israel has failed to get the Trump administration to play a more forceful role.

    One change that can already be seen in the skies above Syria are the growing efforts of President Bashar al-Assad’s military to assert itself against Israel. 

    Syrian air defence batteries have fired missiles at Israeli fighter jets on two occasions in recent weeks, while last Saturday Israel shot down a Syrian reconnaissance drone over the Golan Heights.

    Iran has secured the rights to build an air and naval base on Syrian territory in return for its steadfast military and economic support throughout the civil war. Satellite footage suggests a small base is being constructed, but there are no signs yet of an airfield or port.

    Israeli intelligence believes that factions in the Iranian leadership in Tehran are at loggerheads over whether to invest billions in building the new bases, especially as Israel has threatened to bomb them.

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