On July 9, a ceasefire—negotiated by the U.S., Russia, and Jordan during the G20 summit in Hamburg—took effect in southwestern Syria. It will, if it holds, create an area of quiet along the Israeli and Jordanian borders and, it is hoped, serve as a first step toward a broader de-escalation of the conflict. But Benjamin Netanyahu and those close to him have reportedly made clear that they are very troubled by the details, as David Makovsky explains:
Israeli security experts are skeptical that the cease-fire will hold—they have seen too many similar agreements fall apart in Syria. But this cease-fire touches more directly on Israeli interests than past such deals, as it [applies] not far from the Syrian-Israel border and adjacent to the Golan Heights, approximately two-thirds of which is controlled by Israel. . . . Israel’s most immediate concern is anything that brings Iran or Hizballah to the border of Israel’s tacit ally, Jordan, or close to [Syria’s] border with Israel on the Golan Heights. In principle, a cease-fire deal that would keep Iran, Hizballah, and Shiite forces away from these sensitive areas, [as this one ostensibly does], would be welcomed by Israel.
Yet for Israel, the potential gap between theory and practice looms large. Would the Russians actually enforce the cease-fire in southern Syria? Will Russian monitoring by satellites, drones, and military police occur, and will it be sufficient? Does Russia really intend to keep Iran and Hizballah in check? According to senior Israeli military officials, several hundred Hizballah officials have joined the First Syrian Corps in southern Syria, where they provide intelligence and plant roadside bombs against Syrian rebels—[the same rebels Russia has been fighting]. . . .
One early flashpoint [between Iran and Israel] could be a set of underground Iranian precision-guided missile-production facilities that are being constructed in Lebanon for Hizballah’s benefit. In an extraordinary statement, . . . Israel’s director of military intelligence, Herzie Halevy, announced the existence of these facilities, which would undoubtedly benefit from an Iranian land bridge through Syria.
Tehran, Makovsky notes, has been perfectly clear about its intention to build such a corridor to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. While the apparent route wouldn’t go through southern Syria, a Hizballah presence in the Golan would give Iran additional areas from which it could launch these weapons.