Two days into a shaky ceasefire in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that while Israel was glad for the prospect of an end to hostilities there, any long-term solution had to provide security for the Jewish state as well.
“We welcome the efforts to attain a stable, long-term and real ceasefire in Syria,” he told reporters at the opening of the weekly cabinet in Jerusalem. “Anything that stops the terrible carnage there is important, first and foremost from a humane standpoint.”
Syria’s fragile ceasefire entered its second day on Sunday, with battle zones across the war-scarred country largely quiet for the first time in five years despite some sporadic breaches. The temporary truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is seen as a crucial step toward ending a conflict that has claimed 270,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.
“But at the same time,” Netanyahu continued, “it’s important that one thing remain clear: Any arrangement in Syria must include ending Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.”
Iranian agents have been said to operate on the Syrian Golan Heights in recent years, seeking ways to attack Israel. Meanwhile, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy group that has been fighting rebel forces alongside the Syrian army, has been threatening cross-border attacks.
Jerusalem has long warned that Iran has been delivering advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in a bid to aid its struggle with Israel. The Israeli Air Force has launched multiple airstrikes in recent years in order to thwart such deliveries, according to foreign reports
“We will not abide the delivery of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, from Syria to Lebanon,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “We will not abide the creation of a second terror front in the Golan. Those were the red lines we set, and they remain the State of Israel’s red lines.”
Under cover of the Syrian ceasefire that went into effect Saturday, Feb. 27, and the Russian air umbrella, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps finally managed to secretly install hundreds of armed Palestinian terrorists on the Syrian-Israeli border face-to-face with the IDF’s Golan positions.
These Palestinians belong to Al-Sabirin, a new terrorist organization the Iranian Guards and Hizballah are building in the refugee camps of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Their agents clandestinely recruited the new terrorists from among young Palestinians who fled the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus and sought refuge in Lebanon. Hizballah organized their return to Syria through south Lebanon – but not before training and arming them for penetration deep inside Israel to carry out mass-casualty assaults on IDF positions, highways and civilians.
So Iran and Hizballah have finally been able to achieve one of the most cherished goals of their integration in the Syria civil war, namely, to bring a loyal terrorist force right up to Israel’s border.
Israel’s military planners went to extreme lengths to prevent this happening. Last December, Samir Quntar, after being assigned by Tehran and Hizballah to establish a Palestinian-Druze terror network on the Golan, was assassinated in Damascus.
Twelve months before that, on Jan. 18, an Israeli air strike hit an Iranian-Syrian military party surveying the Golan in search of jumping-off locations for Hizballah terror squads to strike across the border against Israeli targets. The two senior officers in the party, Iranian General Allah-Dadi and Hizballah’s Jihad Mughniyeh, were killed.
The hubbub in the run-up to the Syrian truce, coupled with Russia’s protective military presence, finally gave the Islamic Republic and its Lebanese proxy the chance to outfox Israeli intelligence and secretly bring forward a terrorist force to striking range against Israel.
This discovery was one of the causes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s urgent phone call to President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, Feb. 24, two days before the ceasefire went into effect. He reminded the Russian leader of the understandings they had reached regarding the deployment of pro-Iranian terrorists on the Syrian-Israeli border. He also sent emissaries to Moscow to intercede with Russian officials.
Putin’s answers to Israel’s demarches were vague and evasive, on the lines of a promise to look into their complaints.
He also tried to fob Netanyahu off by inviting President Reuven Rivlin for a state visit to Russia. Putin promised to use that occasion for a solemn Russian pledge of commitment to upholding Israel’s security in a tone that would leave Tehran in no doubt of Moscow support for the Jewish state.
The Rivlin visit has been scheduled for March 16.
But it is clear that the prime minister and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon were too slow to pick up on the new terrorist menace Iran had parked on Israel’s border. Now their hands are tied, say DEBKAfile’s sources. An IDF operation to evict the pro-Iranian Palestinian Al-Sabirin network from the Syrian Golan, before it digs in, would lay Israel open to the charge of jeopardizing, or even sabotaging, the inherently fragile Syrian ceasefire initiated jointly by the US and Russia.
Damascus was quick to jump aboard with the caveat that the fight would continue against all terrorist groups. And Assad has been adamant that no military supplies can be flowing into areas under truce, a tall order in itself, but a critically practical one. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia had clarified last week that their sending ground forces into Syria would only be done under the US coalition banner — Special Ops troops at first, and for the purpose of fighting ISIL.
Since Syria, Russia and the US have waived the green flag on continuing the ISIL fight, would that allow the Turks and Saudis to bring in outside troops to do it? Would Syrian have no say so? And who would police their compliance to make sure they were not rearming their proxies?
A ceasefire monitoring group was built into the initial process which must start with a careful mapping out of where all the factional groups are located to establish what will not only be one big jigsaw puzzle, but one where some of the pieces will try to move around. Will the various groups in those areas be required to submit rosters as to whom the members of their group are? Will some kind of official IDs have to be created so al-Nusra fighters don’t miraculously become members of non-terrorist groups before Friday, or after?
It seems that all ceasefire violations and actions taken on them will require the joint decision of both Russia and the US, but Syria’s roll is still hazy at this point because there were still ongoing disputes between the two coalitions on the designation of who is a terrorist group. The UN did step up to the plate to announce war crimes investigations would begin with the ceasefire. We hope this was not blustering as that will be a very big job for Syria, and a dangerous one.
The division of responsibilities has the Russians handling the coordination center to monitor violations at its Khmeimin airbase near Latakia. It has not only the necessary facilities but the command staff there knows where all the various conflict lines are. The US gets to manage the hot line, the easy job, but then has a much more fractured coalition, and one that has been supporting the terrorists it claims to oppose.
Expect the outlawed terrorist groups to unleash their revenge on the peace process. That has already started with major bombings in Damascus and Homs.
Syria’s main opposition grouping records 15 violations by government troops and allied forces on the first day of a landmark truce, a spokesman tells reporters Sunday.
“There were 15 violations by the regime forces on day one of the ceasefire, including two attacks by (Lebanese militant group) Hezbollah in Zabadani” west of Damascus, says Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee.
The Russian military says on Sunday that a fragile ceasefire in Syria had been breached nine times over the past 24 hours but the truce was mostly holding.
“Over the past 24 hours, nine instances of violations of cessation of hostilities have been uncovered,” Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko, head of the country’s coordination center in Syria, is quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “On the whole, the ceasefire regime in Syria is being implemented.”
Greece on Sunday says the number of refugees and migrants on its soil could more than triple next month, reaching as many as 70,000, as a cap on border crossings by Balkan countries left them “trapped” in the country.
"We estimate that in our country the number of those trapped will be from 50,000-70,000 people next month,” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas says.
“Today, there are 22,000 refugees and migrants,” he adds in an interview with Mega Channel TV.
Some 6,500 people are stuck at the Idomeni camp on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia on Sunday as Macedonian border officials let only 300 refugees and migrants pass the day before.
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