US-Russia ceasefire could reportedly leave Iran-backed forces within 3 miles of Israel’s border


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Iranian-backed forces in Syria could reportedly remain close as 3 miles from Israel’s border under a recent ceasefire agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan.

An Israeli official said militias allied with Iran would be allowed to maintain positions as close at 3 to 4 miles to some parts of the border, while being pushed up to around 19 miles away in others. The positions of the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime will affect the arrangements, the anonymous official said.

According to media reports, the deal applies even to Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Assad.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz refused to confirm the reports. But he and other officials have signaled that the ceasefire does not do enough to protect the border and Israel will continue to act to protect its interests.

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“Even though we view favorably the agreement on the need to eliminate the foreign forces — namely, the Iranian forces, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias from the area — the test will be on the ground, not in words but in deeds. Israel has already made it clear that it shall not accept Iran and its affiliates and proxies basing themselves in Syria, which will be a permanent threat and a constant source of tension, friction and instability,” Katz told JTA in a statement Monday.

After new photos were published of a permanent Iranian base being built some 30 miles from the Israeli Golan Heights, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Saturday that Israel “will not allow the Shiite axis to be established in Syria as a base for action.”

On Sunday, minister Tzachi Hanegbi said  the agreement “does not answer Israel’s unequivocal demands that there will be no developments that bring Iranian or Hezbollah forces closer to Israel’s border with Syria in the north.”

The agreement, announced in a US-Russian statement Saturday, affirms a call for “the reduction, and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied against allowing Iran to maintain any presence in Syria. He has also warned that Syria plans to create a permanent presence in the country, including with naval and air force bases, and that Israel will not allow it to happen.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani confirmed Sunday no non-Syrian fighters would be allowed in the “de-escalation zone” under the agreement, which he said was built on a previous ceasefire reached in July.

He also said the deal was a “key step” in ending the fighting in Syria and would help lead to a political solution to the Syrian civil war, according to the country’s al-Ghad newspaper.