Newsletter : 18fx0712.txt
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After Netanyahu-Putin Summit, Israel Must Decide on a War with Iran in Syria
Up until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's talks with President Vladimir Putin in
Helsinki on July 16, Israel made clear in every way possible diplomatic and
military its resolve to prevent Iran and its proxies from establishing a presence
The resolve to remove Iran, Hizbullah and the other Shiite militias under Revolutionary
Guards command was emphasized for the umpteenth time on Tuesday, before Putin's special
emissaries. His special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey
Vershinin arrived in Jerusalem for another try to shift Netanyahu from his all-or-nothing
stance on Iran. With them was a large Russian delegation of security and military
officials from the Operations Division of the Russian General Staff and intelligence units
specializing in Syrian affairs.
The prime minister complained about lack of trust after Putin's repeated violations of his
promises to Israel regarding Syria. But the biggest problem still be confronted is Iran's
intransigent determination to stay in Syria which is equal to Israel's determination to
drive this arch enemy off its Syrian doorstep.
This impasse was amply illustrated on Sunday. Israel insisted on keeping up its military
attacks on Iranian command posts and depots filled with new weapons constantly flown into
Syria, while deterred Hizbullah and Iraqi, Afghan and Shiite militias were undeterred from
advancing on Israel's borders, even in Syrian army uniforms. This week they are shortening
the distance to their goal day by day.
Putin can't, or won't, push the Iranians out of Syria to meet Netanyahu's demand. Without
the Iranian militias, the crumbling Syrian army is no shape for conducting substantial
ground operations to recover all the areas still in rebel hands. The Iranian proxy input
was pivotal in the battles two months ago around Damascus and now, too, in the ongoing
Syrian offensives in the southwest.
And so, while Putin gave President Donald Trump and the Israeli prime minister solemn
promises to keep pro-Iranian forces out of the operations going forward in the south, at
the same time, he deployed the Russian air force in their support for bombing rebel
Netanyahu met with Putin Wednesday for the third time in six months. At each meeting, he
was forced back into concessions to pay for Russia turning a blind eye to Israeli air
strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. The prime minister first agreed to Iran and its
proxies holding back in positions that were 80km from Israel's border; he then agreed to
40km, and now Israel is clinging to the 1974 Separation of Forces accord signed with Syria
at the end of the Yom Kippur War. This is tantamount to permission for the Syrian army and
its (Iranian) allies to move up to 10km from the border and in some places only a few
dozen meters from the Israeli Golan and Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) basin.
But even that Israeli concession is being whittled down. Tuesday night, the Russian UN
mission led an Iranian and Syrian bid to curtail the authority of UNDOF, the international
force monitoring the demilitarized zone marked out in the 1974 treaty. Once again, the
Russians are two-timing Israel to protect Iran's presence in Syria.
Until now, the IDF did not step in to arrest the serious slide in Israel's strategic
position vis a vis Iran's menacing proximity to its northern border. It also silenced
operations in the run-up to the prime minister's meeting with Putin. But the price for
Russia's blind eye to Israel air strikes against Iranian targets has become excessive.
Time has run out for deliberating whether this price was worthwhile or an inquiry into the
failure of Israel's often lethal air operations to break Iran's resolve. Hizbullah and
other Iranian cohorts are too close for Israel to indulge in soul-searching. Netanyahu's
critical conversation with Putin on Wednesday is the last one before Jerusalem decides
whether to go to war in Syria against Iran, Hizbullah and the militias. Putin is not keen
on another war front developing in Syria, but neither is he willing to throw the Iranians
out. Trump too is deeply reluctant to engage in any further military combat in Syria. So
it is now up to Israel alone to make and carry through this fateful decision.
Report: Israel Attacked in Syria
Syrian media reported on Wednesday night that IDF forces attacked positions of the Syrian
army in the Quneitra area on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Syria's official news
agency SANA said that Syria's air defenses blocked an Israeli missile attack on army
positions in southwest Syria."The aircraft of the Israeli enemy launched number of
missiles at several army positions" in the southwestern province of Quneitra, causing
material damage, it said.
On Wednesday, a Syrian unmanned UAV infiltrated Israeli territory and was shot down by a
Patriot missile. The IDF warned it would not tolerate airspace infiltrations that have
occurred several times over the past year. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Israeli police issued a rare request for boats in the Sea of Galilee to sail back to shore
"due to security operations taking place in the area." It was not immediately clear who
launched the drone. There was a similar incident a month ago and in February Israel shot
down what it said was an Iranian drone that entered its airspace. It bombed Iranian
targets in Syria in response.
Wednesday's incident came as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Moscow for talks on
Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad
in the Syrian civil war. Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria. But it
has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged arms shipments bound for the terrorist
group Hizbullah. Israel has warned Iran, which is allied with the Syrian government,
against building up a military presence on its doorstep.
Dozens of Syrians Cross into Israel for Doctors' Appointments
Keeping a doctor's appointment in Israel, Syrian children and their mothers stepped across
a tense Golan Heights border in the dead of night under the watchful gaze of Israeli
soldiers. The patients, Israeli medical officials said, were not the walking wounded of
the seven-year-old Syrian civil war but children with chronic health problems coming
across the frontier for a day's treatment in a hospital in northern Israel. Israel says it
has treated between 4,000 and 4,500 war casualties from Syria since a humanitarian aid
program, was begun some five years ago.
The group of more than 40 mothers and children that crossed over in the pre-dawn hours of
Wednesday were among the 3,000 Syrians who Israel says have received separate treatment in
what it calls "Operation Doctor's Appointment." Watched by Israeli soldiers with
night-vision equipment, one womancarrying one child and holding the hand of
anotherstepped through a gate built into Israel's security fence in the Golan
After a brief security check, she joined others at the roadside to wait for a bus that
would take them to Ziv Hospital in the northern town of Safed, where a medical clown
entertained the children. "They are treated in hospital and go back the same day," said
Major Sergei Kutikov, an Israeli military health officer. "Sometimes they return twice or
three times for further treatment or ... surgery."
For Israel, the medical aid program can help win hearts and minds in border areas where
the number of refugees has increased in recent weeks as Syrian President Bashar Assad's
forces advance in an offensive to recover southwest Syria.
Michael Harari, a pediatrician at Ziv hospital, said medical infrastructure in southwest
Syria has largely broken down, and groups of Syrian children are brought to the facility
every two to three weeks. "We were afraid in the beginning to come (because we regarded
Israelis) as Zionists and enemies," said one woman, who brought her son for treatment.
"It's the opposite."
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