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.