Putin acts to override Israeli, UN objections to Russian troops on the Golan
The Kremlin pointedly disclosed Saturday, June 8, that President Vladimir Putin had talked by phone to Binyamin Netanyahu Friday on the Syrian question. It was their third conversation in a month. In his first call on May 6, Putin administered a dressing down to Netanyahu who was visiting Shanghai on Israel’s air strike against Damascus the day before. On June 14th, the prime minister flew to Sochi for an abortive attempt to dissuade the Russian president from consigning advanced S-300 missiles to the Syrian army.
There was no comment from Jerusalem on this latest conversation. However, the frequent communications between the Russian and Israeli leaders speak volumes about who calls the shots for the Syrian war arena – and the wider Middle East as well – since the Obama administration opted out. It also demonstrated that Putin is not giving up on the deployment of Russian troops on the Golan, despite the UN veto on their stepping into the shoes of the departing 377 Austrian members of the UN force policing the Golan separation zone between Israel and Syria.
Hoping to circumvent this veto, Putin turned for clearance directly to Jerusalem, one of the two parties to the 1974 disengagement agreement. No details of their conversation have been released.
Ever the opportunist, the Russian leader decided to take advantage of the exaggerated Israeli reporting of “heavy fighting” on June 5 between Syrian and rebel troops over the Quneitra crossing, as his fulcrum for generating a crisis around the divided enclave. Our military sources report that the Quneitra battle was nothing more than the brief seizure of the Golan crossing by a small group of Syrian rebels while Syrian troops were asleep. They were soon chased away by three Syrian tanks. Clouds of black smoke from fires ignited by Syrian shots filled TV screens for hours, giving Putin his answer for countering the arrival in Jordan last week of 1,000 American Marines (disclosed exclusively by debkafile on June 5), US Patriot missile interceptors and F-16 fighters, for deployment on the Syrian border.
The Russian president knew perfectly well that Israel and most likely the UN would bar his offer of Russian troops for the Golan force on legal grounds: The 1974 ceasefire accord precludes the five, veto-wielding UN Secretary Council permanent members from serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). He put the offer forward nonetheless for two reasons:
1. As a reminder to the US and Chinese Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping, holding their first face to face in California, that neither of them controlled the state of play over embattled Syria and that Russia held the whip hand by virtue of its leadership of the Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi-Hizballah alliance.
2. As the groundwork for his next moves for deploying Russian troops on the Syrian Golan. Next time, he won’t ask the US, the UN or Israel for permission. He will go straight to his ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, and advise him of the importance of deploying Russian soldiers to the Golan – on the same footing as the US military deployment in Jordan. Placing the unit just outside the Golan separation zone would save Moscow having to turn to the UN or Israel first.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Kremlin has not finally decided if and when to go through with this plan but stands ready to order the troops’ departure for Syria at any time. For now, Russian leaders are keeping track of the large Syrian-Hizballah military force building up for the next big offensive against the southern town of Deraa, and watching the Iraqi forces standing ready on their side of the border to push into eastern Syria.
If their joint command determines, in consultation with the Kremlin, that a Russian military presence is needed for back-up, Russian troops will be dropped on the Golan.
Uncertainty still surrounds the Russian S-300 missiles sold to Syria. Israeli military sources insist they have not yet arrived, while Pentagon officials report that the Russians are sending batteries over in sections – not yet the missiles. Their fate, like that of the future Russian Golan contingent, awaits determination by the Russian President.