Israel waited 10 days from Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s announcement in Hamburg of their ceasefire plan for southwestern Syria along the borders with Jordan and Syria, before proclaiming its “total opposition” to the plan. On Sunday, July 16, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced publicly, after meeting President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, that the plan was unacceptable.
An official in the party that accompanied him to the Elysée Palace explained to reporters that Israel objected to a truce that could be used as a vehicle for “perpetuating” Iran’s presence in Syria and on its own border. Iran is not just sending advisers to Syria, the official said, but large-scale military forces to establish in Syria an airbase for Iranian aircraft and a naval base for Iran’s navy.
“This already changes the picture in the region from what it has been up to now,” he said.
According to DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources, Israel was finally galvanized into making an unqualified stand against the US-Russian ceasefire plan by discovering how it was being implemented: When last week Russian troops moved into Daraa in southern Syria to police the ceasefire in that embattled town, the Syrian army withdrew – but the Hizballah forces fighting with Assad’s army did not.
A few days later, Hizballah’s elite Kalibat Radwan brigade was seen digging in at Daraa, 1km from the Jordanian border, and preparing to resume the offensive at a moment’s notice for driving Syrian rebels from the town.
This was despite the assurances Washington and Moscow had broadcast that the departure of Iranian and Hizballah forces from the ceasefire zones would be ascertained.
Since Quneitra is the next zone scheduled for the application of the ceasefire, Israel requested clarifications from Washington and Moscow. When they went unanswered, the Israeli prime minister proclaimed total objection to the plan before the Daraa template is replicated in an area abutting its Golan border.
Israel and Jordan are in the same boat in so far as Hizballah is settling in on both their borders. Nevertheless, instead of joining forces against the plan, their ways parted at this juncture. While Israel is up in arms against the US-Russian deconfliction plan, the Hashemite Kingdom has embraced it eagerly and even opened a back channel to senior officials of the Assad regime for its expansion.
The Hashemite Kingdom is impatient to start sending back home the 1.4 million Syrian refugees who fled the violence in their country, as well as restoring trade ties with Syria. If this means living with Hizballah forces on its border, so be it.
This rift developed at a particularly bad moment for the relationship. It was exacerbated by the terrorist attack which, July 14, claimed the lives of two Israel police officers guarding the Lion’s Gate entry to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. While King Abdullah eventually condemned the attack, after first denouncing Israel for temporarily closing the shrine, Jordan’s parliament proclaimed the terrorists “martyrs.”
The king claims the status of Custodian over the Muslim shrines under Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Israel accordingly reopened Temple Mount to Muslim worshippers two days later on Sunday. However, the security measures installed, especially the metal detectors, were used by Palestinian propagandists and Waqf imams, to incite riots outside Lion’s Gate. The imams refused to submit to inspection at the gates, but hundreds of Muslim worshippers disobeyed their orders to exercise a boycott and ascended the mount to pray at Al Aqsa.
However, Israel’s concern about the arrival of Hizballah, Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, on its border, was at the forefront of Netanyahu’s one-and-a-half hour conversation with President Macron Sunday – part of the time one-on-one. After the meeting, the French president said in a joint statement with the prime minister:
“I share Israel’s concerns about Hizballah’s activity in south Lebanon and about the arms the group has. I want to try and promote a diplomatic move to reduce the severity of this threat.”