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U.S. Officials In Israel To Discuss Iran's Presence In Syria

Israeli Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is deployed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the Israel-Syria border, March 17, 2017

U.S. National Security Council officials are in Israel for talks with their counterparts about the details of the ceasefire and disengagement agreement signed on November 8 between the United States, Russia and Jordan.

The agreement was re-affirmed in the joint Trump-Putin announcement when they met in Vietnam over the weekend.

The agreement and the announcement calls for “the reduction and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from Syria, without mentioning any timetable.

Israel has been demanding that Iran backed forces must keep a 30-mile distance from its borders. But repeated meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin have not produced a firm and clear agreement.

As the U.S. national security team arrived in Israel, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Iran’s presence in Syria is “legitimate” and the agreement reached with U.S. does not include Iran-linked militias.

It seems that Israel is clearly dissatisfied with the agreement, since even before Lavrov’s announcement, Netanyahu said on Monday, “I have clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs.”

On November 11, a Western security official told the BBC that Iran is establishing a permanent base south of Damascus, 30 miles from the Israeli border.

Jerusalem Post and Haaretz reported that Israel's Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Eisenkot reportedly flew to Brussels to meet Gen. Curtiss Scaparrotti to discuss Iranian moves in Syria.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have warned that permanent Iranian bases in Syria will not be tolerated.

Based on reporting by Jerusalem Post and Haaretz