Russia May Move Iran's Militants From Israel's Border in Unprecedented Deal on Syria, Reports Claim

Israeli officials believe Russia may be willing to pull Iranian troops at least 15 miles off of the border between Syria and Israel, according to reports.

Fearing that a fight between Israel and Iranian troops within Syria could undermine the position of fighters loyal to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Moscow has called for all non-Syrian fighters to move away from Syria’s border with Israel and Jordan. Late last year, the U.S., Russia and Jordan had agreed to create a “de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria, parts of which border Israel. Violence has remained at bay in the region ever since, but the situation grew increasingly tense in recent weeks as Israel began launching strikes against Iranian forces stationed there.

Reports suggest that Syria’s government, which has been reinforced and supported by Russia, is preparing for a major offensive against rebel groups in the area bordering Israel. Russia and Israel have allegedly agreed that militias loyal to Iran will be held back so that Assad can retake the region from rebels. If carried out, the deal would demonstrate an unprecedented level of cooperation and agreement between Israel and Russia over how Syria should be divided.

Israel is vehemently opposed to Iran maintaining a military presence in Syria, however. And Tehran, which is closely allied with Syrian leader Assad and maintains a working relationship with Russia, is laying the groundwork to develop a long-term presence in the country. Some experts have warned that Israel’s conflict with Iran could launch a new and dangerous phase of the Syrian civil war.   

“Israel, no longer content to remain a bystander as Damascus’s position improves, is now jockeying to reverse the deterioration of its strategic posture. In this endeavour it has formidable obstacles to overcome: the regime is more dependent than ever on Iran, which Israel regards as its most implacable state foe; other enemies, particularly Hizbollah and Iran-backed Shiite militias, are entrenched in Syria with Russia’s blessing; and the U.S., notwithstanding the Trump administration’s strident rhetoric, has done little to reverse Iran’s gains,” reads a February report from the International Crisis Group.

“Yet Israel’s hand is not so weak. Russia has given it room to act against Iran-linked military interests and appears to be more interested in balancing contending fighting coalitions than returning every last piece of territory to the Assad regime’s control,” the report continues.

Meanwhile, Israel is meeting with U.S. officials to hammer out the details of a joint strategy for dealing with Iran’s presence in the Middle East. The White House national security adviser John Bolton, well-known for being hawkish on Iran and advocating for regime change there, will meet with his Israeli counterpart in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the two countries’ approach. The two men will reportedly ratify an agreement for dealing with Iran’s missile program and defeating its network of proxy fighters, which are scattered across the Middle East. They may also discuss ways the U.S. and Israeli armed forces can work together to defeat Iran militarily.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also expected to meet with European leaders to discuss Iran next week.

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