Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Moscow in 2011. Israel's military has recommended allowing the transfer of 50 armored vehicles donated by Russia to the Palestinian Authority that has been delayed since 2010. (Alexey Nikolsky / Agence France-Presse)
TEL AVIV — As a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrives here June 25, military officers have proposed that Israel approve a long-delayed transfer of some 50 Russian armored troop carriers to Ramallah.
Moscow donated the used vehicles several years ago to augment the Palestine Security Forces’ ability to maintain order in the West Bank, but they have been languishing on the Jordanian side of the border since 2010 pending Israeli technology transfer approval.
In interviews here, military sources emphasized that their recommendation was based purely on an apolitical, professional situational assessment of the West Bank theater, and that the ultimate decision would come from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to the sources, release of the vehicles would not constitute an operative threat to Israeli forces in the area since they could be easily targeted for destruction if security cooperation between Israel and the PA unravels.
On the contrary, military sources said the gesture could actually have a stabilizing effect by bolstering the eroding standing of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and diffusing popular resentment at dead-end peace talks, expanding Israeli settlements and an uptick in Jewish terror attacks against Palestinians.
“From a purely operational perspective, some type of initiative or grand gesture is needed to counter the sources of instability percolating in the Palestinian streets,” a veteran defense adviser on Arab affairs told Defense News. “Releasing these antiquated, high-signature vehicles — which we would strike from the air at any given moment — is preferable to allowing more Kalashnikovs to go in,” he added.
Putin is leading a delegation of some 300 government ministers, business executives and media scheduled to arrive here June 25 in an air convoy of four planes. The state visit will be hosted by Israel President Shimon Peres, and will include discussions on bilateral relations, Israel-Palestinian peace prospects, the Iranian nuclear issue and the ongoing crisis in Syria and the wider Middle East, Peres’ office announced June 21.
Putin is also scheduled for a working lunch with Netanyahu prior to his departure the following morning to Bethlehem and Jordan.
As of June 22, Foreign Ministry and other government sources said it was doubtful that Netanyahu would support the military-recommended vehicle transfer.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, chief spokesman for the Palestine Security Forces, said he was not sure if Putin would press the issue in his talks with Israeli leaders. “What is for sure is that those Russian vehicles have been gathering dust on the Jordanian side of the border for years, and we need them now to fulfill our mission.”