I understand Israel’s position on Ukraine. I always wish he would do more


Since the end of the Nazi regime, there has not been such a brutal, senseless and baseless war in Europe as the war launched by Russia against Ukraine. It is not a question of who is the victim and who is the evil aggressor. Yet while all of Europe and the United States have stood firmly in Ukraine’s corner, the Israeli government has taken a more subtle approach, focusing on behind-the-scenes negotiations and refraining from taking action. that could irritate the Russians, such as imposing sanctions, while standing in solidarity with the United States on UN votes.

How to understand the procrastination in Jerusalem, which simultaneously affirms that Israel is at the side of the Ukrainian people while refusing to condemn Putin publicly?

As a small country under constant threat from larger neighbors and firmly rooted in the democratic west, it identifies with Ukraine, yet its security interests depend heavily on coordination with the Russians in Syria, where Russian troops control much of the country and airspace. Coordination with Russia has allowed Israel to operate in the air over Syria unopposed, even attacking Iranian targets.

Additionally, although many Jews live (and now flee) Ukraine, there is also a large Jewish community in Russia. There are fears that if Israel’s relations with Russia deteriorate further, the Jews living there would be trapped with no way out. This is why the Israeli government insisted that El Al continue its flights to Russia, for example.

Finally, Israel has a complicated relationship with Russia’s many Jewish oligarchs – the same people that the majority of Western countries have sanctioned. Over the years, many of these oligarchs have been granted Israeli citizenship, which means that as far as Israel is concerned, they are Israelis, and Israel has no law that would allow it to confiscate the property of its citizens simply because foreign nations have sanctioned them.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (C) greets his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog (2ndL) before their meeting at the Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv on October 5, 2021.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

What we see now in Israel’s stance toward Russia and Ukraine is essentially an attempt to balance its values ​​with its interests. And this approach certainly has its upsides. He provided Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with the opportunity to talk to both sides and facilitate dialogue between Putin and Zelensky.

But as the Russians resort to increasingly brutal methods in their war against Ukraine, this balancing act will become increasingly untenable. Israel cannot be considered the only Western democracy that has not sided with Ukraine. Continuing “as if nothing had happened” with a man who is clearly becoming a war criminal is not really an option.

Moreover, the fear that the Russians in Syria will close Syrian airspace to Israel is not urgent; historically, whenever the Israeli Air Force met the Soviet Army (now the Russian Air Force), the encounter did not end well for the Soviets.

In the only dogfight between Israelis and Soviet aircraft during Israel’s War of Attrition, the IAF shot down five Soviet aircraft and suffered no losses on the Israeli side. In 1981, during the First Lebanon War, the IAF destroyed the carefully designed Soviet missile system in Syria and suffered no casualties. And since then, Israeli technology, training and tactics have continued to advance rapidly, while the Russian army barely resembles the Soviet army with a fresh coat of paint, as we saw in Ukraine.

Ultimately, while there is always risk in pursuing the unknown, it is unlikely that the Russians will attempt to interfere with Israeli activities in Syria. An air force that cannot dominate the skies above Ukraine after two weeks of battle is not about to face the IAF.

With the war now in its third week and no clear end in sight, Israel’s tightrope stance becomes inexcusable. Israel will soon be forced to choose values ​​over some of its perceived interests. If the war continues, Israel will not be able to continue operating El Al flights to Moscow or protecting the financial interests of the Jewish oligarchs indefinitely. Israel will have no choice but to fully coordinate its actions with the rest of the Western democracies.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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