JERUSALEM – Israeli officials are giving a lukewarm reaction to an international agreement laying out principles for post-war Syria.
The agreement, announced in a U.S.-Russian statement on Saturday, confirmed the importance of “de-escalation areas” as an interim step toward reducing violence, enforcing cease-fire agreements, facilitating humanitarian aid and setting conditions for the “ultimate political solution” to a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
It also affirmed what it said was a U.S.-Russian-Jordanian understanding calling for “the reduction and ultimate elimination, of foreign forces and foreign fighters from the area to ensure a more sustainable peace.”
Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears to be headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Sunday that the agreement “does not answer Israel’s unequivocal demands that there will be no developments that bring Iranian or Hezbollah forces closer to Israel’s border with Syria in the north.”
In an earlier interview, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told the Associated Press that an international agreement on Syria would be a positive development, but stressed that Israel is not a party to this deal and would defend its interests.
“We have proved that before and we will prove it again in the future,” Katz said on Thursday, ahead of the expected agreement.
Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian war, but officials have acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes on suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah. Israel has said it will not allow Hezbollah to obtain “game changing” weapons, and it has expressed deep concerns that Iran will carve out a “Shiite corridor” providing a land route to ship weapons from Iran to Lebanon.
On Saturday, Israel shot down a Syrian unmanned aircraft that it said tried to infiltrate Israeli airspace from neighboring Syria.