Russia: All non-Syrian Forces Should Leave Israel-Syria Border ASAP

Russia's position has been changing since Israel's attack on Iranian positions in Syria in early May

TOPSHOT - A general view shows the sun setting over a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa on May 28, 2018. 
 / AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED
MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces from Syria's southern border with Israel should happen as soon as possible, the TASS news agency reported. 

Rebels control stretches of southwest Syria, bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, while Syrian army troops and allied Iran-backed militias hold nearby territory. 

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On Monday, Lavrov said that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country's southern border which is close to Jordan and Israel, the RIA news agency reported.

The change in Russia’s position has become clearer since Israel’s May 10 military clash with Iran in Syria and amid Moscow’s concerns that further Israeli moves would threaten the stability of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia May 28, 2018.
\ SERGEI KARPUKHIN/ REUTERS

Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, east of the Damascus-Daraa road (or, according to another version, east of the Damascus-Suwayda road, about 70 kilometers from the border).

The superpowers, however, did not comply with the demand; the agreement stipulated that the Iranians and militias would remain about 5 kilometers from the lines of contact between the regime and the rebels, around 5 to 20 kilometers from the Israeli border.

But the Iranians did not uphold this demand either. Members of the Revolutionary Guards and militias were periodically seen near the border, while forces linked to the Assad regime even violated the 1974 separation agreements with Israel by occasionally entering the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights.

It seems Assad himself has become less enamored with the Iranian military presence, which is creating friction with Israel. In February and May, in the latest round of tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria, the IAF destroyed a raft of Syrian air-defense batteries after they fired at Israeli fighter jets. According to various estimates, nearly half the regime’s air defense system was disabled.

According to Israeli intelligence, in Syria there are now around 2,000 Iranian officers and advisers, members of the Revolutionary Guards, around 9,000 Shi’ite militiamen from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and around 7,000 Hezbollah fighters. Israel believes that the Americans are now in a good position to reach a more effective arrangement in Syria in coordination with the Russians under the slogan “Without Iran and without ISIS.”