On Wednesday, August 1st, Russian official Alexander Lavrentiev announced that an agreement was made to keep Iranian-backed fighters 85 kilometers from the Golan Heights, thus withdrawing any heavy weaponry possessed by Iran. However, according to Al Jazeera, Iranian advisors may still remain along the border. Though it is unclear when exactly the deal was made, Lavrentiev assured that the agreement is still in effect and was made so as to not irritate Israel. This comes after recent attacks by the Israeli military on Iranian-linked forces within Syria, a move done to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence on the border. In an effort to diffuse tensions, Russia has claimed that Iranian forces are necessary near Syrian-held Golan. Conversely, Israel continues to object to any continued intervention, claiming that the presence of Iranian forces, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the area, is redundant now that the Syrian Civil War is seeing a close.
Though a sign of progress, it is clear there is still much to be addressed before regional peace is obtained. According to Al Jazeera, Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov said that Moscow was still unable to convince Iran to withdraw from Syria. Viktorov further indicated that Russia would continue to stay silent on both the air raids performed by Israeli forces and the arms transfers linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi further expressed his distaste at the presence of foreign powers in the region. In an interview with Israel Radio, he claims that despite, “ military intervention and entrenchment by Iran in Syria,” Iran’s possession of long-range missiles pose a threat. As a result, he believes, “ there’ll be no compromises nor concessions on this matter.” Hanegbi further believes that continued presence of Iranian-backed forces is problematic, as it would enable Lebanon’s Hezbollah to extend their influence in the region, arguing that Israel is, “not ready to see a new Hezbollah front on our northern border between Israel and Syria…this is something that, if we don’t prevent it today, when still at its outset, will exact a heavy price of us down the line.”
Overall, it is clear that this withdrawal is but a temporary fix. The most urgent issue that must be addressed is the continued, problematic presence of Russian-backed forces in the region. By failing to intervene in the midst of air raids by Israel and tolerating the arms movement by Hezbollah, Russia is simply prolonging tensions and conflict, all the while gaining influence in the region in an effort to increase power in the international stage. According to Richard Reeve of the Sustainable Security Programme, “Putin began to think about developing Russia as a great power,” following the fall of Gaddafi, even going as far to say, “I don’t think that they have a genuine belief in Assad,” and that their presence is, “basically a theatre to test out their military equipment and doctrine.” For any productive negotiations between Iran and Israel to be possible, it seems that a more detached, objective party is needed to mediate the two.
Attention to the Golan region has increased recently due to a six-week-long effort that resulted in Syrian forces successfully expelling ISIL-linked groups and rebels opposing the Assad regime. Historically, in 1974, to end the Yom Kippur War, Syria and Israel agreed to the Agreement of Disengagement Between Israel and Syria, resulting in a 235 kilometer-long buffer zone in the area. With the onset of the Syrian Civil War, fighting broke out in the area, with the Syrian fighting for control against both IS and rebels. In 2014, when the rebels took control of the area, UN peacekeepers were evacuated. Furthermore, Iran has long been a powerful supporter of the Assad regime and had been present in the war. According to the New York Times, Iran had assembled large Shiite militias and has sent high-level advisors to Syria since. As rebel forces have dwindled, Iran has continued to work with Shiite Hezbollah and Shiite Iraqi forces. In response, Israel has carried out numerous airstrikes within Syria. Last August, former Israeli Air Force Commander Amir Eshel admitted that nearly 100 strikes had occurred since 2012.
With a larger distance separating both Israel and Iranian weaponry and tensions still at an all-time high, this agreement shows that progress between the two states is a possibility. However, in order to push both parties to more peaceful talks, it falls on the international community to actively denounce any sort of violence done by both sides and to continually ensure that any further intervention in the area is done for the sake of stability and peace, not for the advancement of individual interests.
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