On July 7, the United States, Jordan and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in a limited area of southwestern Syria. Despite prior consultation, Israel has expressed concerns that the arrangement could lead Iran and Hezbollah to eventually establish a strategic foothold on Israel’s northern border. Moving forward, the United States must better address these security concerns to prevent a serious clash between Israel and Iran’s proxies in Syria.
The cease-fire fails to address Israel’s concern.
• Israel’s security depends upon minimizing significant threats and preserving stability on each of its borders.
• Accordingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently laid out three “red lines” with respect to Iran and Hezbollah’s activity in Syria:
o An Iranian and Hezbollah-led Shia militia presence on Israel’s northern border.
o Attempts at the “establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria as a whole.”
o Attempts by Hezbollah to acquire “precision weapons.”
The cease-fire serves Iran’s strategy and preserves Hezbollah’s options.
• The cease-fire reportedly seeks to prevent Shia militias from establishing themselves on the border with Israel. However, the terms allow them to remain in Syria—enabling their deployment at a future date—and in no way prevents Iran from establishing a permanent military presence there.
• The cease-fire will free up Iranian and Hezbollah forces to join the battle for Deir al-Zour—a key regional site and the last area Iran must conquer to complete its Tehran-Beirut “land bridge.”
o This land bridge would allow the easy transport of large numbers of precision weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
• If Deir-al-Zour falls, Syria and Iran would likely violate this latest cease-fire (the fifth such agreement since last year) and turn their attention to defeating the remaining rebels, including those near Israel and Jordan’s borders.
Failure to address Israel’s concerns may force it to take action.
• On July 9, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “We [Israel] retain exclusive responsibility for the security of Israeli citizens, and therefore our freedom of action is absolute. We will do everything that is needed.”
• In determining the way forward in Syria, the United States must work more closely with Israel and elevate the importance accorded to Israel’s vital security concerns.