Last week, Russia negotiated a ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebel forces in the city of Daraa, where the initial protests that sparked the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began. The agreement ended a 75-day assault on the city, located near the country’s southwestern border, by Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces. Jonathan Spyer explains the significance of these events:
The siege and the subsequent agreement bring an end to an anomalous situation that had [existed] in Daraa since . . . July 2018. Since that time, Russia had underwritten a situation in which former rebels were able to hold light weapons and maintain security inside the town. The regime, meanwhile, did not attempt to establish checkpoints or impose its rule in Daraa. The regime offensive under way since June was intended to terminate this situation and reimpose direct rule.
The shifting balance of power in this southwestern Syrian province matters to Israel, because Daraa province borders the Golan Heights. It is the location of an Iranian strategic project to establish and deploy forces under its control, with the intention of using them in a future clash between Jerusalem and Tehran.
From Israel’s point of view, the main obstacle to the consolidation and entrenchment of this Iranian project, other than Israel’s own military actions, has been the Russian presence in the area. The Russians do not support the Iranian project to build a capacity for aggression against Israel in southwestern Syria. Their own project of limited cooperation with former rebels appeared indeed to be pushing in the other direction.
The apparent Russian shift toward acquiescence to Iranian desires reflected in the Daraa agreement will thus not be welcomed in Jerusalem. Going together with increasing signs of Russian impatience with Israel’s air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria, it is an indication that any Israeli hopes that Russia might play a role in limiting Iran’s influence in Syria may have to be revised.