In a final cease-fire agreement signed by representatives of the U.S., Russia, and Jordan, the Russians have committed to removing all Iranian militias from Syria.
A senior State Department official told reporters Sunday the agreement, called the “Memorandum of Principles,” or MOP, is now firmly set. The official said the document “enshrines the commitment of the U.S., Russia, and Jordan to eliminate the presence of non-Syrian foreign forces.”
The includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hezbollah, Iranian-backed militias from Iraq, and foreign jihadist groups. Under the agreement, Russia will work with the Syrian government to remove those entities from its soil.
The official was also quoted as saying:
"These elements—these extremists groups and these foreign-backed militias—have used the Syrian conflict over the last five years to increase their presence in this part of Syria, which has undermined the cease-fire and poses a threat to Jordan and Israel."
The most immediate challenge, then, will be reports that Iran has begun construction on a permanent military facility less than 10 miles south of Damascus. The BBC, quoting a “Western intelligence source,” said the compound includes two-dozen low-rise buildings that likely will be used to house equipment or personnel.
The BBC report includes satellite images that show the rapid construction and renovation of buildings on the compound. An independent analysis also suggested the buildings are likely for military use, but do not feature any large-scale military equipment, such as radar systems or missile launching platforms.
This is exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning against for the past several months. Sunday, at his weekly Cabinet meeting, he said:
"We will take a very firm stance against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any area. I mean any source: rogue factions, organizations—anyone."
Other reports, quoting Israeli officials, state the agreement merely pushes "non-Syrian forces" away from "de-escalation zones," and that Iranian forces could amass within five miles of the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. According to those officials, such an arrangement would be intolerable to Israel.