Israel Tight-Lipped on Reply to Putin’s Peacekeeping Offer

TEL AVIV, June 10 (RIA Novosti) – Israel has given Russia an official reply to its offer to send peacekeepers to the Golan Heights, but does not want to make that reply public, an Israeli deputy foreign minister told RIA Novosti on Monday. Other Israeli officials have revealed contradictory feelings about the offer.

“Israel’s position was expressed openly and unambiguously during a conversation between the two countries’ leaders. Sometimes there are things that are best left on that level,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said, referring to a telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin on Friday said Russia was ready to deploy troops to the Golan Heights, in eastern Israel, to replace nearly 400 Austrian peacekeepers being pulled out of a UN monitoring mission due to intense fighting in neighboring Syria.

Although Elkin was tight-lipped about Israel’s reply to Putin’s offer, other officials have revealed conflicting views about Russian troops in the area.

Israeli Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, currently on a visit to Moscow, said Monday that she thought Israel would not oppose the deployment of Russian peacekeepers.

“If President Putin has decided to deploy his forces there, I don’t think Israel will oppose that. We always want somebody to be there to monitor the situation,” she told Ekho Moskvy radio. “We would like any forces that could assume responsibility. Those can be Russian, Austrian or Australian. That doesn’t make any difference to us at all.”

Israel has already encountered a situation where peacekeeping forces were deployed in the Golan Heights but did nothing, simply sitting in their bunkers, she said. “So we would like to have forces that would be actively involved, at the very least in ensuring peace and security between us.”

However, other Israeli officials were skeptical about the proposal.

Yuval Steinitz, Israeli minister of international, intelligence and strategic affairs, said Friday that Putin’s idea of sending Russian troops to the Golan Heights to replace the Austrian troops was “unrealistic.”

“Israel cannot trust international forces, and sometimes, as it happens, their presence during crises is more burdensome than useful,” he said in comments carried by L’Agence France-Presse.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky on Friday thanked Russia for its initiative, but said the peacekeeping agreements “do not allow for the participation of permanent members of the Security Council in UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Force].”

Some analysts believe that Israel is unlikely to accept the Russian offer due to Moscow’s close ties with Damascus.

Zeev Hanin, of Bar-Ilan University, told the BBC Russian service that Israel would like to avoid a repeat of the “two-day war” with Syria in June 1982, when Israeli fighter jets were, in effect, up against Russian antiaircraft systems. Israel would also like to avoid a situation like the one in South Ossetia, where Russian peacekeepers became involved in an armed conflict, he said.


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