Jerusalem and Amman worry Tehran aims to carve out a Shiite-controlled land corridor through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean
In this Friday, July 7, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, in Hamburg. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is at left, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is at right. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A separate truce for southern Syria, brokered by the US and Russia, is meant to help allay growing concerns by neighboring Israel and Jordan about Iranian military ambitions in the area, including fears that Tehran plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence there.
Such apprehensions were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.
The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.
But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.
Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)
The cease-fire for southern Syria, set to start at noon Sunday, is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks.
This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
The truce is to be monitored through satellite and drone images as well as observers on the ground, a senior Jordanian official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with reporters. Syria ally Russia is to deploy military police in the area.
Information on truce compliance could be shared and discussed in different locations, including Jordan, the official said. Israel did not participate in the truce talks, but was presumably briefed by the US, the Jordanian official said.
Cease-fires have repeatedly collapsed in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, and it’s not clear if this one will last. The southern Syria truce is separate from so far unsuccessful efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including in the south.
Israel is expected to watch for truce violations.
In this Saturday, May 9, 2015 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands on a hill next to the group’s yellow flag in the fields of the Syrian town of Assal al-Ward in the mountainous region of Qalamoun, Syria. (AP Photo/Bassem Mroue, File)
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Hezbollah.
“The question and concern is of course if it will be exploited by the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran to create new facts on the ground,” said Chagai Tzuriel, the director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry.
Ahead of Friday’s truce announcement, Jordanian and Israeli officials expressed concerns about Iranian ambitions.
The Jordanian official said the international community, regional powers and Jordan would not tolerate the creation of a “land line all the way from Tehran to Beirut.”
Such a “Shiite crescent” would disrupt the regional balance and be considered a “super red line,” he said, referring to rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim political camps led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively.
Conflicts between the camps have escalated in recent years, including in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Predominantly Sunni Jordan is a US ally and maintains discrete security ties with Israel.
Jordan previously raised concerns about Iran in talks with Russia, the official said. The Assad government surely received the message, he said, adding that it’s unclear how much influence the Syrian president has over his allies.
A successful truce could pave the way for talks about Syria retaking control of border crossings with Jordan that it lost to rebels during the war, the Jordanian official said.
Israel is also worried about the recent movements of Iranian-backed forces.
Israel controls the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in southwestern Syria that it captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has fought cross-border wars with Hezbollah from Lebanon.
In comments earlier this week, Tzuriel raised three points of concern, including the Hezbollah presence near the Golan and efforts by Iran in Lebanon to build what he said is an “indigenous missile production and upgrade capability.”
He also noted last month’s linkup of forces belonging to the Iranian axis, including Shiite militias, coming from both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border, near Jordan. This raises concern that control of parts of the border will allow Tehran “to realize its strategic aim of completing an overland continuum from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon,” he said.
“These are threats which should concern all parties who are interested in stabilizing Syria and the region, including the United States and Russia,” he said.
The truce deal, the first such agreement between the Trump administration and Russia, could help the US retain more of a say over who fills the power vacuum left behind as Islamic State is routed from additional territory in Syria.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg. (AP/Evan Vucci)
Washington has been resistant to letting Iranian forces and their proxies gain strength in Syria’s south. In recent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syrian aircraft that got too close to American forces as well as Iranian-made drones.
The British ambassador to Jordan, Edward Oakden, said Russia has an important role to play.
“It’s obviously incumbent on the Russians to bring pressure to bear on both the (Syrian) regime and the Iranians, and on the regime’s Hezbollah allies, to respect the spirit and the letter of this cease-fire and to contribute actively to the establishment of a de-escalation zone, rather than, as it appears, seeking to undermine it,” he said in an interview Friday.
Analyst Ahmad Majidyar, who monitors news sites linked to Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said it seems Iran will only deepen its presence.
The Iranians and their proxies “have increased their activities in southern Syria,” said Majidyar, director of the Iran Observed Project at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.
Objectives include carving out the land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean, challenging the military presence of the US and its allies and opening a new front against Israel once the fight against Islamic State is over, he said.
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.