The US-Russian-Israel formula for South Syria, composed in painstaking discussions for weeks, is not working. This became clear in phone conversations on Friday, July 20, between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin and their defense ministers.
The “understandings” they had apparently reached were proving inoperable, including Russia’s guarantees for the non-presence of Iranian militias and Hizballah near Israel’s Golan border.
The breakdown stemmed from an abrupt Russian U-turn. Russian diplomats were suddenly claiming that Moscow never agreed to have Iranian proxies and Hizballah pushed back from the Israel border or out of Syria at large. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, Netanyahu and Lieberman responded to this discovery by declaring that Israel would now feel free to wipe out any positions or bases those pro-Iranian and Hizballah forces, fighting with Syrian army units, may set up in Daraa and Quneitra. Strikes would also continue as before against those targets in other parts of Syria.
Only two understandings survived the Russian-Israeli leaders’ phone calls on Friday:
The Russian-IDF military coordination mechanism in Syria would continue to function to avert clashes.
The Russian military would not interfere with Israel military operations in Syria.
Moscow’s abrupt reversion to the status quo ante effectively erased President Donald Trump’s disclosure in Helsinki just four days earlier of a collaborative effort agreed between the US, Russia and Israel at his summit with the Russian leader: He told reporters: “President Putin is also helping Israel. We both spoke to Bibi Netanyahu. They would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. In that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. Israel will be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.”
Netanyahu discovered when he talked to Putin on Friday that the Russian leader has no interest in working together for “the safety of Israel”– certainly not in the way it is understood in Washington and Jerusalem. Their relations on the personal level will likely remain, but security ties at the strategic level will be wound back to their low point of a year ago.