The disintegration of the UN peacekeeping forces on the Golan shows why Israel cannot rely on international forces for its security, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet at the outset of its weekly meeting on Sunday.
Netanyahu was referring to Austria’s decision last week to pull out its 380 troops from the 1,000-member UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Israel-Syria border.
While international forces can be part of future agreements, they cannot be what Israel relies on for its security, Netanyahu said.
He added that he will raise this in future talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry’s recent efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic talks have revived the idea that international forces may be able to replace withdrawing IDF forces in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere as part of a peace agreement.
Netanyahu said that any agreement will be based on a demilitarized Palestinian state that will recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, and on “concrete” security arrangements that will be based on an IDF presence.
Netanyahu said that he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin again on Friday, the third time in a month, about the situation in Syria – which Netanyahu described as getting more complicated by the day.
On Friday Putin offered to replace the Austrian UNDOF forces with Russian ones, an idea rejected by the UN because under the terms of the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement, the members of the UN Security Council – of which Russia is one – cannot send troops to that force.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin left Sunday night for Russia, where he will hold a number of meetings with senior Russian officials to discuss both diplomatic and bilateral economic issues.
Among the officials he is scheduled to meet is Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
Elkin, a native Russian speaker, accompanied Netanyahu when he flew to Sochi last month to discuss with Putin the situation in Syria and the proposed sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria. It was decided at that meeting that Elkin would return for follow-up discussions.
Netanyahu reiterated to his cabinet what he has said numerous times in the past, that Israel would not interfere in the Syrian civil war “as long as the fire is not directed at us.”
A senior government official said that the situation with UNDOF on the Golan illustrated once again that Israel’s recent experience with international forces has been “problematic in the extreme.”
The official pointed to the EU Border Assistance Mission at Rafah (EU BAM), which was charged with monitoring operations at the Rafah border crossing after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as two international monitoring units that simply failed to do their jobs.
“EU BAM ceased to function the minute Hamas came to power,” the official said. “And not only has UNIFIL not prevented the massive rearmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it also has not fulfilled its monitoring role and not sent a single report back to the UN secretary-general about Hezbollah’s missile buildup.”
Now, the official said, “we see with UNDOF that when the going gets tough, it does not function. This is important to see for those who believe international forces can be some sort of magical solution to Israel’s security concerns in a peace agreement.”
The official said that Israel would demand that IDF troops, not international forces, enforce the security arrangements in any future peace agreement, regardless of who makes up those international forces.
Recently, there has been some talk of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian force that would jointly control the Jordan Valley in the eventuality of an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank.
The fundamental weakness of the international forces, the official explained, was that they were not capable of performing their duties because of a concern for the security of their own forces.
For instance, he said, in Lebanon, UNIFIL’s concern is that “if they get too pushy, Hezbollah will take them on.”
Last week, a day before the Austrians declared they would be leaving UNDOF, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz delivered a speech to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs saying he would “vehemently” oppose the deployment of international forces instead of IDF forces as part of an overall peace arrangement.
Steinitz is considered a close Netanyahu political ally.
“Some people are speaking about international forces, maybe on the Jordan Valley or the hills and border areas, that will take care of Israel’s future security,” he said, completely dismissing the idea.
“The principle should be very clear,” he stated. “The Palestinians should be able to control their lives, and we should be able to control our security in our own hands. For us security means survivability, and we have had very negative experience with international forces so far.”
Referring to the last 10 years, Steinitz said, “We had two very negative experiences just in the last decade, one in Lebanon and one in Gaza – in the South and in the North.
This cannot repeat itself in the West Bank.”
He added that it was clear to the government that the only demilitarization that Israel could trust would be one “supervised and enforced by Israeli forces.”