army units are preparing to move into the Syrian town of Quneitra in
the coming days and take up positions opposite the Syrian-Israeli
Golan border, DEBKAfile reports exclusively from military sources.
Their function is to police the second zone of southwestern Syria
designated for ceasefire by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir
Putin when they met in Hamburg on July 7.
Quneitra is just 5km from
Israel’s border and the line of IDF positions defending it. Israel
has notified Washington and Moscow that it is flatly opposed to the
presence of a Russian unit on its border.
However, the US and Russian
officers coordinating the ceasefire’s implementation agreed to
recommend going forward with the Russian deployment.
The White House
and the Kremlin gave the officers’ recommendation the green light,
virtually imposing it on Israel against its will. Their argument is
that the first ceasefire zone that was established last week in the
Daraa front on the Jordanian border will quickly break down if it is
not shored up by a second zone at Quneitra.
But the two zones differ
in major respects, our military and intelligence sources emphasize.
The understandings drawn up for Daraa between the US, Russia and
Jordan, included a clause explicitly providing for the withdrawal of
Iranian and pro-Iranian forces, including Hizballah, to a point 40km
west or north of the demilitarized town. This clause never stood up
for one moment.
As DEBKAfile first disclosed on July 16, even after
Russian and Chechen troops moved into Daraa on Sunday, Syrian and
Iranian forces did move out, but an elite Hizballah unit remained.
The US, Russia and Jordan decided collectively to let this breach of
the ceasefire deal go without response and tried to keep it dark.
While acting to procure Jordan’s acceptance for the new format, the
two powers refrained from turning to Jerusalem. They knew they would
be greeted with a flat rejection, because of an earlier laps:
clause providing for a 40km withdrawal of Iranian and pro-Iranian
troops from Daraa was left out of the deal for Quneitra - heedless of
urgent Israeli demands for its inclusion.
The absence of any
Trump-Putin commitment on this score leaves Israel fully exposed to
the presence of Iranian and Hizballah forces within mortar range of
its Golan border in an area supervised by their ally, the Russian
It was this danger that galvanized Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu into broadcasting Israel’s total opposition to the
Trump-Putin ceasefire for southwestern Syria during his visit to
Paris on Monday, July 17, after his talks with President Emmanuel
In an apparent bid to calm Israel’s concerns, Russian
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an usual statement for a Russian
diplomat: "I can guarantee that we have done everything and the
US side has done everything to ensure that Israel's security
interests within this framework are fully taken into account,"
he said later on Monday.
Careful perusal of this comment revealed to
our sources that it was made in the context of a previous ceasefire
accord for the Russians had made Turkey and Iran “co-sponsors.”
Instead of reassurance, his comment was taken in Israel as a bid to
ascertain that the arrival of Russian troops in Quneitra over
Israel’s strenuous objections would go smoothly.