Between the devil and the deep sea

Written by The Frontier Post

Dmitry Ermakov

Official Kyiv is dissatisfied: Israel re-fuses to help with weapons and does not impose sanctions against Moscow. One of the reasons for such restraint is blood ties with the conflicting parties. The situation in Syria also plays a role: without Russian troops in this country, Islamist militants would be more active. What makes Tel Aviv remain neutral and whether they are going to participate in the negotiation process, RIA Novosti understood.
No exceptions for Kyiv
Israel, along with Turkey and Belarus, is trying itself as a mediator in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman explained: “We have a historically established moral position and political interests.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is one of the few pro-Western leaders who communicates regularly with both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky. In March, Bennett visited Moscow to discuss, among other things, the Russian military special operation. There were no official statements – Ukraine was counting on more. At the same time, Israel did not announce anti-Russian sanctions and refused to supply weapons to Kiev.
Ukraine tried to insist on its own. At the end of March, presidential adviser Sergei Shefir, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk and former ambassador to Tel Aviv Gennady Nadol-enko flew to Israel. They met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. However, the head of government did not consider it necessary to receive Zelensky’s envoys.
According to the newspaper Haaretz, the delegates of Kyiv tried to negotiate the supply of weapons with private businessmen. But such contracts are possible only with the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. Sources in the ministries said that no exceptions would be made. Also, Israel has not yet confirmed whether it is ready to act as a guarantor of security under a possible international agreement after the end of hostilities. This was requested by the Ukrainian side during communication with the Israeli media.
According to a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, the majority of residents (67 percent) support Ukraine. But not everyone wants decisive action from the government. Only 22 percent are in favor of the supply of weapons, 60 percent are against joining the anti-Russian sanctions of the West. At the same time, there are Israeli weapons in Ukraine – they are sent by Europe.
Russian billions
The historical ties of the Jewish state with the post-Soviet space are great. Of more than nine million Isr-aelis, about 13 percent are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Mostly from Russia and Ukraine.
Some, including Avigdor Lieberman or Construction Minister Zeev Elkin, are major political figures. Mo-reover, five of the thirteen prime ministers, including the founder of the Israeli state, David Ben-Gurion, were born in the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. The campaign for the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019 used a photo of him with Putin.
Kremlin-linked businessmen also play an important political and social role in the country. Among them is Roman Abramovich, a billionaire subject to UK and EU sanctions. At the same time, he is a major philanthropist for Israel. According to The New York Times, at least four more Russian-speaking Israeli billionaires were subjected to restrictive me-asures for ties to Moscow. In the country, judging by local media reports, “a few dozen” Russian oligarchs with dual citizenship have asked for asylum.
But Israel’s connection to Ukraine, where there are still many Jews, is also strong. For example, Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch who is considered a patron of Zelensky’s campaign, is an Israeli citizen. The President of Ukraine himself is also a Jew.
Not surprisingly, Israel repeatedly expressed support for Ukraine during the military special operation. He sent humanitarian aid there, opened a field hospital in the west of the country. Members of the government have repeatedly advocated an early ceasefire.
In April, Israel joined the states that voted to exclude Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the position of Tel Aviv and the harsh speech of the country’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “This is an attempt to take advantage of the situation around Ukraine to divert the attention of the international community from one of the oldest unresolved conflicts – the Palestinian-Israeli one,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Refugee quota
However, Tel Aviv does not seem ready for more decisive action. Naftali Bennett tends to avoid direct criticism of Russia, leaving Yair Lapid to make harsh statements. But he also shows diplomatic caution. Thus, he called on China to participate in the peace process, thus indicating that Israel will not do this alone.
At the end of March, the Israeli leadership met with high-ranking diplomats fro-m four Arab countries and the United States. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who was present, urged M-iddle Eastern allies to join American efforts to isolate Russia. But neither Israel nor the other summit participants changed their position.
According to foreign analysts, Tel Aviv is trying to avoid anti-Semitic sentiments both in Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, right-wing organizations in Israel itself are dissatisfied with the arrival of Ukrai-nian refugees. Nationalist politicians argue that the influx of non-Jews into the country could weaken its identity. This was mentioned, for example, by the leader of the Tkuma-Ihud Leumi party bloc, Bezalel Smotrich. However, the world Jewish community has long considered his views to be radical.
Almost 15,000 refugees from Ukraine have arrived in Israel since the start of the conflict, according to the Immigration Authority. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who also holds right-wing views, announced: Israel will allow Ukrainian non-Jews who are already in the country to remain until the end of hostilities and open the borders for another five thousand. Yair Lapid insists it is morally imperative to accept more: “We will not close our doors and our hearts. Israel has nine million inhabitants and several thousand refugees will not harm Jewish identity.”
Shaked later added that all Ukrainians with relatives in Israel would be allowed temporary entry. At the same time, Tel Aviv is trying to support the Jews who remained in Ukraine.
“Sanctions are unreasonable”
Another reason for Israeli neutrality is the border with Syria, on whose territory Islamist groups operate. Tel Aviv needs a partnership with Moscow – Russian troops are holding back the aggressive plans of the militants.
Meanwhile, Israel’s military confrontation with the Arab states and Iran is again entering a hot phase. There is a wave of Islamist terror in the country: 14 people have died since mid-March. Tel Aviv has traditionally responded harshly. On April 9, the Israeli Air Force carried out massive airstrikes on targets of the Iranian Islamic Revolutio-nary Guard Corps in Syria.
“Political scientists, ministers and state leaders constantly explain to me: we have Syria at our side,” said Natan Sharansky, a former dissident originally from Donbass, later a sta-tesman of Israel. “The West gave Putin the keys to the sky above it. Therefore, we have no other choice, other than to come to a strategic understanding with Russia.”
Former adviser to the Israeli prime minister on national security issues, Yakov Nagal, stressed that coordination with Russia in Syria is of fundamental importance for the Israeli army. And in order to participate in the Ukrainian conflict, the Jewish state is too small. About 30 percent of Israelis believe that the mediation efforts of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid will be able to end the conflict in Ukraine. These statistics were published by the Israel Institute of Democracy. But political scientist Avigdor Eskin doubts the polls are indicative – the country’s residents are poorly aware of the real events in Ukraine and the opportunities for negotiations.
“At the same time, Israel has taken a principled position of non-alignment with the sanctions and refusal to supply any weapons to Ukraine. This is different from all EU states, including Turkey, which sends drones that have shown themselves effectively in Karabakh to Kiev,” Eskin said in an interview with RIA Novosti. “Therefore, Israel is a more reliable mediator than the countries directly involved in the conflict. “Jerusalem” means “City of Peace” (according to one version. – Approx. ed.), and it would be a good symbolic choice of place for negotiations.”
Eskin also recalled that after the collapse of the USSR, Russia never took part in the sanctions against Israel.
“A trusting relationship has developed between Bennett and Putin. Israel even managed to maintain its position, despite the demands of the United States, which is not trivial. Zelensky, on the other hand, turned to the Knesset and reminded that Ukrainians helped Jews during the Holocaust, but this rhetoric had the opposite result. Part of Ukrainian society, albeit smaller, acted quite differently then,” Eskin noted.
“We want friendship with both sides and a ceasefire. But sanctions as a tool are unreasonable, they make things worse for everyone and do not affect the situation in any way,” the political scientist added.
However, if Israel takes over the peacekeeping mission, it will not be in the co-ming days: judging by the statements of Putin and Ze-lensky, the negotiations ha-ve reached an impasse. Yet Israel has a chance. The M-inister of Foreign Affairs d-id not support Moscow in the UN, but Russia also sp-oke out against Israel on th-is platform more than once. However, decisions in the country are made not by the Foreign Ministry, but by the prime minister’s office.

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