Israel has been acting as a mediator in the Ukraine war because of its good relations with both Ukraine and Russia. Nevertheless, criticism of Jerusalem’s positioning in the conflict is growing louder. Voices at home and abroad demand that the Israeli government unequivocally condemn the Russian invasion.
Jewish Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a symbol of the struggle for a free world in the West; a modern Winston Churchill. European nations are ceasing neutral approaches and pacifist thinking, while the continent’s security and foreign policy will never be the same in the face of Putin’s attack.
However, Zelensky’s request for military support was rejected by the Jewish state. Even as Russian troops shelled Babi Yar, where Nazi henchmen murdered more than 33,000 Jews in just two days in 1941, Israeli government officials did not condemn or mention Russia.
While the Israeli population’s disgust at the Russian attack is significant, the government is trying to remain neutral.
While the Israeli population’s disgust at the Russian attack is significant, the government is trying to remain neutral. Officials refuse to voice strong criticism of the attack or even Putin’s shameless claim that the aim is to “de-nazify” Ukraine.
Moreover, Israel’s representation at the United Nations did not support the United States when Washington wanted the Security Council to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The fact that Israel – which sees itself as an integral part of the West and, whenever necessary, calls for unlimited solidarity regarding its own safety – remains neutral is met with incomprehension, even in Washington, and rightfully so.
Israel, of all countries, should understand the current situation of the Ukrainians. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when numerous Arab armies attacked the Jewish state on its holiest holiday, Israel came on the brink of defeat. With the courage of desperation, but above all, thanks to the arms deliveries from the US, Israel was able to turn the tide and reclaim the upper hand in the Middle East.
Back then, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used considerable political skill to save all warring factions from humiliating defeat and bring them to the table for armistice agreements.
Almost five decades later, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is trying to use similar shuttle diplomacy to mediate the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Bennett, who has yet to officially condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, became the first Western leader to travel to Moscow for secret talks earlier this month, with Washington’s blessing.
Bennett became the first Western leader to travel to Moscow for secret talks earlier this month.
After his three-hour meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, Bennett flew to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and made several phone calls to Ukrainian and French heads of state, Zelenskyy and Emmanuel Macron. The result was non-existent.
The war in Ukraine has put the Jewish state in a difficult situation. Military support for Kyiv is out of the question for Jewish officials. Instead, Israel sent humanitarian supplies and opened a field hospital in the city of Lviv. As a key US partner, Israel supports its ally’s efforts to reach a diplomatic solution, but Bennett’s balancing act between Washington and Moscow is also intended to serve his country’s interests as Israel has deep historical and cultural ties with both Ukraine and Russia.
Over a million Jews from the states of the former Soviet Union emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. In the meantime, Israel is making considerable efforts to protect and possibly evacuate the approximately 200,000 Jews from the war zone.
And then there are geopolitical reasons. Maintaining good relations with the Kremlin is pivotal for Israel, considering Russia’s military presence in Syria. In the eyes of the Israeli government and security officials, the greatest threat remains Iran and the militias in the region that Tehran supports, such as Hezbollah.
Maintaining good relations with the Kremlin is pivotal for Israel, considering Russia’s military presence in Syria.
Israel has been bombing arms depots and militia positions in neighboring Syria for years, and this would not have been possible without Russian approval. After Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 and shelled insurgent-controlled cities like Aleppo to rubble and ash, it now controls the airspace in large parts of the country. In addition, Israel is dependent on the cooperation of the Russians to prevent pro-Iranian militiamen from establishing themselves in the Syrian-Israeli border area.
[Israel’s Working Relationship with Russia Inside Syria]
[US Allies in the Middle East Drag Their Heels on Russia]
Israel’s relationship with Russia are historically so close that Benjamin Netanyahu depicted himself on billboards with Putin for his last election campaign. He wanted to show what powerful friends he had in the world. Bennett went even further at his meeting with Putin in Sochi in autumn 2021, calling Putin “a very close and true friend of the Jewish people.”
Zelensky is disappointed by the passive attitude of the Jewish state, as expressed in his speech to the Knesset.
Understandably, Zelensky is disappointed by the passive attitude of the Jewish state, as expressed in his speech to the Knesset. In his appeal, he addressed Jews worldwide, asking them not to be silent. After all, National Socialism and Nazi cataclysms only come into existence because so many remained silent. “Raise your voices against the killing of civilians, the killing of Ukrainians!” Zelensky urged.
Resentment is also spreading on the domestic side. “Our government should have taken a clear stance against the Russian invasion,” said former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Even though it is a delicate situation for us, we should have applied the basic principles of moral integrity that have distinguished our state for many years.”
Olmert has strongly criticized his government’s stance of not condemning Russia’s military actions and called for the Jewish state to remain faithful to its principles and allies. Israel must help Ukraine and the refugees, but above all, stand by the United States, he admonished.
He also – and correctly – alluded to the fact that Israel is in almost constant need of the help and support of the international community and should behave as it would expect others to do when Israel finds itself in a similar situation.
Olmert has a valid point. Israel has failed to strike a fair balance between morality and realpolitik in its hesitant condemnation of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. In addition, Israel should not be at Russia’s mercy when it comes to Iran, especially since the current strategy has worked sub optimally at best. Israel’s constant attacks on Iranian infrastructure in Syria have not eliminated Hezbollah – Iran’s proxy in Lebanon – nor persuaded Iran to change its ways.
Israel has failed to strike a fair balance between morality and realpolitik.
With Iran on the verge of returning to a nuclear deal, moving from confrontation to diplomacy would be appropriate. There is no reason to believe that doing business as usual would suddenly lead to different results – the very definition of insanity teaches one precisely that.
Ultimately, Israel owes Putin nothing. By giving the Israeli Air Force carte blanche in Syria, Putin has been able to delegate Israel the task of limiting Iranian influence in a country he wants under Russian control.
So far, Israel’s efforts – besides Bennett’s diplomatic approach, which has not achieved anything – are limited to the supply of 100 tons of humanitarian aid. However, Putin is a challenge to the entire free world. Therefore, Israel has a moral and political obligation to join its Western allies and support Ukraine.
Despite its good relations with Russia, Israel must hence condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Especially since the first month of the conflict have shown one thing in particular: Russia has become the greatest terrorist in the world – deliberately killing civilians for a political objective.
Ten million people have already abandoned their homes in Ukraine.
Ten million people have already abandoned their homes in Ukraine. Reports of war crimes are surfacing daily. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of bombing an art school where 400 people had been sheltering. This comes after Russians bombed a theater that had sheltered 1,300 people, including children. Reports also suggest that Russia targeted a nursing home, killing 56 elderly residents.
With Plan A – a Blitzkrieg-esque invasion of its neighbor – having failed, Russia now seems determined to kill as many Ukrainian civilians as possible, making it not only a war, but mass murder.
This is a battle between good and evil, and a clear position must be taken – Israel’s geopolitical interests notwithstanding.
Hence, Bennett’s deplorable efforts to serve as a peacemaker can hardly be taken seriously.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Inside Arabia.