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Israel Tried to Derail Syria Ceasefire at Secret Meetings With U.S. And Russia Over Iran
Israel attempted to turn the U.S. and Russia around on their plans for a ceasefire in southern Syria at two top-level, clandestine meetings held last month over the continued presence of Iranian forces and Lebanese militia Hezbollah in the war-torn country.
Haaretz reported that the U.S. and Russia held a series of secret meetings with Israel in early July, meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman and in one unnamed European capital city to discuss the plans for the establishment of safe zones in Syria. The partial ceasefire was announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg just days later.
Israeli officials and Western diplomats said under condition of anonymity that Israel’s representatives at the secret summits included senior officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. Michael Ratney and Brett McGurk, Trump’s special envoys on Syria, led the U.S. negotiators and Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s Syria envoy led the Russian team.
The main sticking point between the tripartite group was the continued presence of Iran, which backs Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and its proxy forces in Syria. Israel considers the growing power of Shiite Iran to be its principal threat in the region while the U.S. and Russia see defeating and degrading the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria and elsewhere their principal goal, with the ceasefire in Syria a means to that end.
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017 Carlos Barria/File Photo
Israeli officials argued to their counterparts that the continued presence of Iran in the country could shift its sectarian balance between Shiites and Sunnis. As such they said the ceasefire should include the removal of all Iranian and Iran-backed forces including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah from Syria. Otherwise, the Israelis said, Syria, like Lebanon and Gaza, could become a launching pad for attacks against against them.
A senior Israeli official said the draft of the United States and Russia’s plans were met with shock. The agreement made no mention of Iran’s presence in Syria, or mentioned Hezbollah or the Islamic Republic once, to Israel’s surprise.
On 16 July Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu came out publicly against the ceasefire, reiterating that it provided Iran a foothold in Syria.
Iran has supported the regime of President Bashar al-Assad alongside Russia in Syria. It has provided ground troops, tactical advisers and Shiite militiamen from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq to bolster Damascus’ forces.
Both Iran and the U.S. are working to degrade ISIS in Syria, but the U.S. role is limited to special forces on the ground and a coalition of air forces bombing the jihadi group from above. Washington and Tehran rarely recognize the role of the other in combating the threat of ISIS and are avoiding any escalation between the two militaries.
This has not extended to the Assad regime. President Donald Trump in April authorized the first American strike against the Syrian government.
While Israeli police disclosed last Thursday that the ongoing investigations into Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu include suspicions of alleged crimes far more serious than originally believed, voters seem unfazed, showing greater support for the Likud and Netanyahu’s coalition partners following the disclosure.
On August 3rd, investigators revealed that the suspicions against Netanyahu included fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. The investigations are centered around what have been dubbed the “1000” and “2000” scandals, which revolve around accusations of bribery by Israeli businessmen and collusion between the Prime Minister and the publisher of one of Israel’s largest newspapers.
A day later, former Netanyahu Chief of Staff and political consultant Ari Harow turned state witness in exchange for a plea bargain agreement keeping him out of jail amid accusations of bribery, money laundering, and fraud.
The Prime Minister has pushed back against the investigations, calling them part of an orchestrated attempt to undo the results of the 2015 election.
While a poll taken shortly after the revelation show that a majority of Israelis do not believe the Prime Minister’s claims, voters nevertheless appear to be just as willing to back Netanyahu and his coalition partners.
According to a new Panels Politics survey published by Maariv Friday morning, both Likud and the Netanyahu coalition made gains over the previous poll, conducted before the police disclosure.
While a July 21st Panels poll showed the Likud winning 24 seats, Friday’s poll gave Netanyahu’s party 25 seats. That still represents a 5-mandate decline from the 30 seats won in 2015, but suggests the latest revelations regarding the investigations into the so-called “1000” and “2000” scandals may not be harming Netanyahu’s electoral prospects.
Netanyahu’s present coalition – which includes Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu – also showed a net gain over the previous poll, rising from 63 seats to 66.
The haredi United Torah Judaism party gained one seat compared to the previous poll, rising to eight – a two-seat increase over the party’s 2015 performance. Shas, on the other hand, remained stable in comparison to the past poll with five seats, a two-seat decline since 2015.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party gained two seats since July, rising from five seats to seven. The party won six mandates in 2015.
The Jewish Home party fell by 1 seat, from 13 to 12, since the July poll, though Friday’s poll still shows a significant improvement over the party’s 2015 showing, which yielded 8 mandates.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party remained stable from July to the present poll with 9 seats, a decline from the 10 the party won in 2015.
The Zionist Union, presently the largest opposition party and the second biggest party in the Knesset, would fall to third place from 24 seats to 16, a 3-seat decline since July.
Meretz picked up a single seat in the poll, rising to six mandates, while the predominantly Arab Joint List part fell two seats, from the 13 it won in 2015 to 11.