Just 24 hours after Austria decided to withdraw its 380-strong contingent from the UN force policing the Golan separation zone, President Vladimir Putin stepped forward Friday, June 7, with an offer of a Russian force to take its place on the highly sensitive Syrian-Israeli border. Thursday, two peacekeepers were injured by falling ordnance from a battle between Syrian and rebel troops around Quneitra.
debkafile: The Russian president saw his opportunity to pluck the fruits of Moscow’s success in backing the Syrian-Hizballah forces’ advances in major battles against rebels, notably at al Qusayr, and position Russian troops face to face with the Israeli army. They would constitute a barrier against any military intervention being mounted against the Assad regime from Israel.
UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Hak said: "The UN would welcome Russia’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts in the region."
Our military and intelligence sources doubt whether the Israeli government will be enthusiastic about Russian troops policing the Golan sector separating Israeli and Syrian forces. Jerusalem may be expected to seek advice from Washington in order to get the Russian contribution disqualified on the grounds that Moscow can hardly claim to be a neutral party when it is so heavily committed militarily to one side of the Syrian conflict.
The Obama administration’s reaction to Putin’s move is hard to predict because a rejection could torpedo the fading prospects of the US-Russian-sponsored Geneva conference for a political solution of the Syrian war – for which no date has yet been set. The Russian president appears to be aiming at having Russian troops posted on Syrian soil under the US flag when – and if – the conference ever gets off the ground.
What Putin said was this: “In view of the complicated situation which is currently unfolding on the Golan Heights, we could replace the Austrian peacekeeping contingent, which is withdrawing from this region, on the disengagement line between Israeli troops and the Syrian army.”
The Russian president made no mention of the presence of Syrian rebels on the Golan.
Israel has four major concerns in this matter:
1. The presence of Russian troops on the Syrian side of the Golan would inhibit Israeli cross-border military action should it become necessary for its security.
2. It would upset the relations the IDF has developed with certain Syrian rebel units, manifested by their war wounded receiving treatment at the military field hospital set up especially at the Tel Hazaka post on the Golan and transferred in severe case to hospitals in Haifa and Safed.
Last week, US military released data with pictures showing the movements of Israeli special forces in and out of Syria.
3. The possibility of Russian officers in blue helmets interfering with Israeli military movements on the Israeli side of the Golan as well cannot be ruled out.
4. Some of the Russian contingent may be assigned to gather intelligence on Israeli military movements in the north of the country. There is no way to stop them handing those secrets over to the Syrian and Hizballah.
In the event, the UN thanked Moscow but explained that the Syrian-Israeli 1974 disengagement accord did not allow permament UN Security Council members with veto power to serve in UNDOF.