CJCS Joseph Dunford: “Iran’s Potential Role In Enforcing Security Zones Along Israeli Border Raises Concerns”
Tara Copp wrote in the May 9, 2017 edition of Stars and Stripes, that “under the terms of an agreement signed last week in Ankara, Turkey, several large areas of western and southern Syria would become protected areas — where the use of weapons, including air strikes, would be prohibited. Russia, Iran, and Turkey would be empowered to “take all necessary measures” to enforce the peace in these zones, including attacks inside those areas against the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State.”
“One of the zones would be in southern Syria, in rebel-held territory, along the Israeli/Syrian border by the Golan Heights,” Ms. Copp wrote.
CJCS Dunford, “who was traveling in Israel this week to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top defense officials, said that Israeli leaders were concerned about the possibility of having Iranian, or Iranian-backed forces such as Hezbollah, so close to its border,” Ms. Copp noted. “We’re concerned to,” CJCS Dunford said, “I think it’s fair to say the Israelis are concerns about what happens in southwest Syria, along the border….The primary concern would be Iranian influence, and Lebanese Hezbollah influence, along the border.”
Israel “would want to make sure, as these zones are proposed, that their security concerns are addressed,” Gen. Dunford said.”One of the specific areas of concern is advanced weapons in the hands of Lebanese Hezbollah,” which Gen. Dunford called, “a major conventional force.”
Dan Arbell, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, who worked for 25 years in Israel’s foreign service, said, “Israel would reject any role Iran may be given in a future solution to the Syrian crisis; and, especially objects to any physical Iranian presence in southern Syria. If Israel sees these security zones as some sort of game-changer along the border — if the shipments are jeopardizing Israeli security, they will need to respond accordingly.” he added.
“Israel has supported the rebel presence along its border, providing field hospitals to maintain a buffer between it and the Iranian and Hezbollah-backed Assad regime,” said Anthony Cordesman, a senior Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Ms. Copp noted that “earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters traveling with him in Europe, that the U.S. would consider the proposed zones — if they could assist in stabilizing Syria; but he added, “the devil is in the details.” Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “is discussing the proposed zones with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week,” CJCS Dunford said. Mr. Cordesman said that “Israel may endorse security zones to bring stability to Syria; but, it’s unlikely to agree to any limits that would keep it from protecting interests in southern Syria, or striking [arms] shipments.” Mr. Cordesman questioned whether the agreement would move forward, while Russia, Iran, and Turkey are to map out specific zones by June 4,”: Ms. Copp noted. “Guaranteeing a zone is a diplomatic act. Putting forces in the zone is completely different. Will Israel tolerate a threat? Probably not.”
POTUS Trump’s decision to authorize arms/weapons support to the Iraqi Kurds, has certainly complicated these discussions, as Turkey is very unhappy over Washington’s decision to arm the Kurds. And, it goes without saying that such an agreement is fraught with difficulty, and no doubt — high levels of mistrust. Iran has been a long-time supporter of Hezbollah; and, the anti-Israel group is more or less a proxy group doing Tehran’s bidding. Strange bedfellows indeed. Don’t trust, and VERIFY, will serve as a guidepost for all of those involved. If by some miracle the U.S., Russia, Iran, Israel, and Turkey are able to make this work — maybe, just maybe, other more thorny issues could also be addressed. On the other hand, if the agreement falls apart, the region will be no worse off than it already is. Hope…….springs eternal. V/R, RCP.