UPDATED: Vladimir Putin, the Czar of Russia, has offered to put Russian troops on the Golan Heights — the mountain range controlled by Israel but claimed by Syria — to serve as U.N. peacekeepers between Syria and Israel, now that the government of Austria has decided withdraw its participation in the peacekeeping force.
Putin has spoken directly by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the offer, and presumably would not have made it without first discussing the idea with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
If both sides agree, this would put armed Russian soldiers on the northern mountains of Israel for the first time in the modern history of the State of Israel.
The move might also have prophetic significance. As I have noted on this blog in the past, in the Old Testament of the Bible — in Ezekiel 38 & 39 — the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel warns that in the “last days” of history, a dictator (Gog) from Russia (Magog) will form an alliance with Iran (Persia) and a group of other Middle Eastern countries to surround and attack Israel. Curiously, Ezekiel 38:15 specifically notes that Gog “will come from your place out of the remote parts of the north.” Ezekiel 39:2 says Gog will come “from the remotest parts of the north” and come “against the mountains of Israel.” It would be both disturbing and intriguing if Russian troops were suddenly positioned on the northern mountains of Israel, especially at a time when Russia and Iran are building a strategic alliance together and other events are occurring that are consistent with the prophecies of the “War of Gog & Magog.”
[UPDATE: “The Russian offer followed an announcement by Austria that it would withdraw its UN peacekeepers from the Israeli-Syrian border,” reported Haaretz on Saturday. “Austria’s peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 900-member UN force monitoring a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 on May 31, 1974 in order to monitor a ceasefire between the two countries….Speaking before the Security Council, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin repeated Putin’s offer to send a battalion of 300 soldiers to take the place of the outgoing Austrians. Churkin pointed out that in order for this to happen, both Syria and Israel must grant their approval for the move, as the 1974 Disengagement Agreement stipulates that the UNDOF in the Golan Heights must not be comprised of soldiers from one of the Security Council members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, or France.”]
“President Vladimir Putin offered on Friday to send Russian troops to the Golan Heights to replace the Austrians who are withdrawing from the U.N. peacekeeping force that monitors the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces,” reported the Associated Press on Friday evening.
“Naturally, that will happen only if the regional powers show interest in our proposal and if the U.N. secretary-general asks us to do that,” AP quoted Putin as saying, “adding that Ban Ki-moon had personally asked him to increase Russia’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations during a visit to Russia last month.”
Putin’s offer was quickly turned down, however, by Josephine Guerrero, spokesperson for the U.N. peacekeeping department. She said that while the offer was appreciated, the disengagement agreement and accompanying protocol do not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that he raised Putin’s offer during Security Council consultations on the U.N. force, known as UNDOF, which has been caught up in the spillover of fighting between government and opposition fighters in Syria, including being the target of three hostage-takings by rebel fighters.
“Obviously we are aware of that document, but we believe that times have changed,” Churkin said. “The document was signed 39 years ago at the height of Cold War and the whole context of the war of 1973. Now the context is completely different.”
Churkin said council members agreed that Syria and Israel would have to approve a Russian deployment. He added that U.N. legal experts would also examine whether the council might have to adopt a resolution if the Russian offer moves forward.
The Kremlin said Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Syria during a telephone conversation on Friday. No details were given. Russia is a close ally of Syria and Putin would almost certainly not have made the offer without advance approval from its president, Bashar Assad.