Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Russian Challenges to Israeli security by Jerry Gordon



Russians in the Golan Syria Demilitarized Zone

June 9, 2013

by Jerry Gordon


Friday, Austria announced that it was withdrawing its contingent in the UN Demilitarized Observer Force (UNDOF) in the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights. This was triggered by clashes between Assad forces and Syrian opposition including al-Nusrah forces in the town of Quneitra that resulted in Austrian casualties. Russia's Putin weighed with an offer to supply a replacement force, currently barred by UN Security Council (UNSC) protocols for UN Peacekeeper forces. That led to discussions by phone Sunday between President Putin and Israeli PM Netanyahu. Israel had also notified Assad's forces of its demand that they withdraw tanks and armored personnel carriers from the demilitarized zone. The Assad government suggested they were used against Syrian opposition cadres in the largely Druze populated area.

AFP in a news report noted these exchanges:

"We saw only last week the battles which took place next to our border on the Golan," he said after Syrian rebels clashed with troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad for control of Quneitra in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. 

Thursday's clashes, in which two UN peacekeepers were lightly wounded, prompted Austria to announce it would withdraw its 377 troops from UNDOF, the UN Disengagement Observer Force headquartered at Quneitra.

The move caused great concern in Israel as it will reduce by more than a third the UNDOF force which has monitored the ceasefire line for nearly four decades.  

"The disintegration of the UN force in the Golan clarifies the fact that Israel cannot base its security on international forces," Netanyahu said. "They can be part of the arrangements, but not the main foundation for Israel's security," he said, pledging to discuss the issue with US Secretary of State John Kerry who is due in the region on Tuesday for his fifth visit since February.

Putin on Friday offered to send Russian troops to bolster the depleted UNDOF. 

"The idea of Putin sending Russian troops to the Golan in place of the Austrian troops in the force is not feasible," Yuval Steinitz, Israel's Minister for International Relations, said at the start of the cabinet meeting, in remarks quoted by Israel Army radio.

 The Russian 'suggestion' in the wake of Austria withdrawing its contingent of the UNDOF is a troubling assertion of realpolitik emerging in the bloody Syrian conflict. (READ MORE)



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