As Syria Cease-fire Begins, Netanyahu Warns of Iranian Entrenchment on Israel's Border

Netanyahu says both Russian and U.S. leaders have assured him that they will take Israeli interest into account vis-à-vis the cease-fire in Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 9, 2017.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 9, 2017. Dan Balilty/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that both Russian and U.S. leaders have assured him that they will take Israeli interests into account vis-à-vis the cease-fire in Syria, while warning against Iran establishing itself in the region.

A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire deal for southwestern Syria took effect at noon on Sunday, the latest international attempt at peacemaking in the six-year war.

"Israel would welcome a true cease-fire in Syria, but this truce cannot allow Iran and its satellites to establish themselves militarily in Syria in general, and in southern Syria in particular," Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting. 

"Last week I have held intensive discussions over the matter with Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin. They both told me they understand Israel's positions and will take our demands into account."

Netanyahu said Israel's red lines include preventing Hezbollah from obtaining weapons via Syria and positioning itself on Israel's border, as well as barring Iranian forces from establishing military presence across Syria.

Two weeks ago, an American envoy came to Israel and held talks with senior Israeli officials about establishing de-escalation zones, otherwise known as safe zones, in southern Syria near the Israeli and Jordanian borders as part of an effort to end Syria’s civil war.

Israel told Washington that it opposes having Russian forces supervise what happens in these zones, senior Israeli officials said.

A senior Israeli official said the talks are taking place in great secrecy and very intensively, including in the last few days. He said Washington is coordinating its positions with Jerusalem and presenting Israel’s views in its talks with Russia and other international players.

One of Israel's primary demands in the talks is to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

Also during Sunday's cabinet meeting, the prime minister addressed UNESCO's decision over the weekend to recognize Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian heritage sites. Netanyahu reiterated that he has cut $1 million from Israel's fees to UNESCO, and will redirect the funds toward building a Jewish heritage museum in Hebron as well as other similar initiatives.