Meetings held in Jordan and Europe days before Moscow and Washington announced the Syria deal. Jerusalem raised objections that pact empowers Iran, allies in war-torn country
By Barak Ravid, HAARETZ
Israel, the United States and Russia held a series of secret meetings early last month in Amman and in a European capital regarding the cease-fire in southern Syria. The parties focused in part on the establishment of “safe zones” on the Syrian-Israeli and Syrian-Jordanian borders, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.
At these meetings, which were held a few days before Russia and the United States announced the cease-fire agreement, Israel presented numerous objections to the deal, saying the two powers were not paying enough attention to the importance of removing Iranian forces from Syria.
Israeli officials and Western diplomats who asked to remain anonymous told Haaretz that leading diplomats and security officials from Israel, Russia and the United States took part in the talks. The Israeli team included top representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces. The American team was led by President Donald Trump’s special envoys on Syria, Michael Ratney and Brett McGurk. The Russian team was headed by President Vladimir Putin’s envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.
On the day of the meeting in Amman between the Israelis, Russians and Americans, another tripartite meeting was held in Amman between Israel, the United States and Jordan about the cease-fire. At the first meeting Israel presented its positions to the United States and Russia while at the second meeting, Israel and Jordan presented their positions, which are very close, to the Americans.
A few days later, the Israelis met with the Americans and the Russians in a European capital. A senior Israeli official said the meeting in Europe involved higher-ranking officials than the talks in Jordan. At this meeting, too, Israel presented its list of reservations about the cease-fire deal in southern Syria.
Sought departure of Iranian, Shi’ite forces
Senior Israeli officials said that the main dispute was that the Americans and the Russians see the cease-fire in southern Syria and the safe zones as a practical and tactical means of stabilizing the situation and enable a focus on wiping out the Islamic State and lowering the flames of the civil war. Israel, however, believes that the agreement should be considered from a long-term, strategic perspective and should focus on what the extent of Iranian influence will be in Syria after the civil war ends.
The Israelis told their interlocutors that the agreement should provide a solution not regarding Iranian presence in the 20 kilometers from the Israeli border, but for the rest of Syria as well. A senior Israeli official said the Israelis told the Russians and the Americans that they had to demand from the Iranians that the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias in Syria must leave the country.
If the Iranians do not leave Syria, Israel warned, according to the official, the country will become a base for missiles that will threaten Israel and Jordan, like the …read more