Israel Will Continue Operations in Syria Despite U.S.-Russia Ceasefire

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On November 13th, Israel declared that it will continue to take military action in Syria against Iranian-backed fighters even as the U.S. and Russia are working towards a ceasefire agreement between U.S.-backed groups and the Assad regime.

Israel has said it would not be bound by a ceasefire agreement and would continue to operate across the border in Syria when it deems necessary. The deal would include Iranian-backed groups fighting on behalf of the Syrian army who would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria.

While Israel said this was a positive development, it said the agreement didn’t go far enough. Israel claims the agreement doesn’t meet its demand that there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north.

Iran doesn’t believe the ceasefire deal includes its forces which ruins the point of a ceasefire agreement. Russia has also said the new agreement did not include a Russian commitment to ensure Iran-backed groups would be pulled out of the country.  According to Russia, Iran has maintained a legitimate presence in Syria.

On November 11th, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit, Presidents Trump and Putin agreed to an extensive statement on the conflict in Syria. The statement reaffirmed that both countries are committed to defeating Islamic State in Syria. Both presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.

Trump and Putin also pledged to continue de-confliction to ensure the U.S. and Russian militaries do not clash in Syria, and pledged new support for the U.N.-backed Geneva process, which has failed to find a political solution to end the conflict. The Geneva process is formed in the U.N. Resolution 2254 in 2015 which lays the foundations for a future peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.

The U.S. has said that an agreement would focus on de-confliction between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks.

The U.S. and Russia have been on opposing sides during the Syrian civil war, with the U.S. backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Army.

The U.S. and Russia have made multiple attempts to reach an agreement for establishing a ceasefire in different regions in Syria but have failed to reduce violence for long. In July, a new ceasefire agreement was brokered by the U.S. and Russia for southwest Russia. Israel’s main concern with regard to the July ceasefire agreement is increasing Iranian influence in the region.

The Israeli policy towards the civil war in Syria has been primarily about containment, focused on Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah. Israel has said it has no interest in intervening in the civil war in Syria either in favor or against President Assad.

Israel has maintained a tense border with Syria since Israel took control of the Golan Heights in the Six Day War in 1967. Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and considers them Israeli territory. In June, Israel targeted Syrian military positions with air strikes in Quneitra after ten tank shells from inside Syria hit the Golan Heights. Syria accused Israel of aiding the jihadists with its strikes.

In September, Israeli military shot down an Iranian-made drone sent by Hezbollah in the Golan Heights. In November, Israeli military shot down another drone in the same region operated by the Syrian regime. Israel fears that Iran will use its territory in Syria to launch attacks on the Golan Heights or Israel or that it will create a transit path from Iran to Lebanon that could allow Iran to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.

With IS nearing defeat, the U.S. and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria yet remain locked in a proxy battle between the Assad regime and U.S.-backed opposition. This has increased the need for close communication between the U.S. and Russia about where their forces are operating to avoid violence which increases the need for a new ceasefire agreement.

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