Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images
Israel denied claims today by Russian officials and reports in Arab media outlets about new understandings that were allegedly reached about the situation in Southern Syria. An Israeli official told me that no deal was reached with the Russians so far.
Why it matters: The Syrian army is about to start a military operation against rebels in Southern Syria near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, which would violate a ceasefire deal signed by the U.S., Russia and Jordan last July.
The state of play: The Russians want to update the deal because of the Syrian army operation. Israel, the U.S. and Jordan are open to the Russian proposal but want to make sure it will include a firm commitment from the Russians that Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Shia militias will not take part in the operation and will be completely removed from the areas close to the Israeli and Jordanian borders.
What they're saying: Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya told reporters in New York on Friday that an agreement on disengagement in the Southwest part of Syria was reached with Israel.
- He added: "Whether it has been implemented as of now I can not answer, but I understand that the parties that were involved in reaching the agreement are satisfied with what they reached. If it has not been done by now it will be done in the near future."
An Israeli official told me: "The Russian attitude towards getting the Iranians out of Syria is much more positive than before. The Russians are moving in the right direction but until now we only heard ideas from the them and we haven’t seen anything on paper. The devil is in the details and the big test is the implementation."
The details: The Israeli official added that Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed in his phone call with Russian president Putin on Thursday and in his phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday and Friday that Israel wants the Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Shia militias out of the entire Syrian territory and not simply out of the areas close to the Israeli border.
- The official said that Netanyahu told Putin and Pompeo Israel will maintain full freedom of operation against Iranian military entrenchment attempts anywhere in Syria.