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Will Lavrov’s anti-Semitic remarks push Israel off the fence?

While Israel has officially condemned the invasion, accused Russia of war crimes and sent planes loaded with humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has so far refrained from fully joining Western sanctions against the Russia, mainly because of its own security concerns.

In a sort of good cop, bad cop routine, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett barely mentioned the name ‘Vladimir Putin’ in his statements on the war in Ukraine, leaving the most blunt and damning condemnations of Russia’s actions to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments struck a chord. On Sunday, Putin’s top diplomat sought to justify Moscow’s absurd aim of “denazifying” Ukraine – a baseless depiction of the country, which is led by a Jewish president – by claiming that Adolf Hitler had to “Jewish blood” and that “the most ardent anti-Semites are generally Jews.”

The Russian Ambassador to Israel was summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for talks. Bennett called the claims “lies” and Lapid described them as “unforgivable and outrageous”, warning that Israel had “tried to maintain good relations with Russia, but there is a line, and this time the line has been crossed”.

“Jews didn’t kill themselves in the Holocaust,” Lapid added. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”

This led Russia to accuse Israel of supporting “the neo-Nazi regime in kyiv” on Tuesday, as well as a thousand-word speech by the Russian Foreign Ministry that used examples of the Jews’ forced collaboration with the Nazis and contemporary examples of anti-Nazism. anti-Semitism in Ukraine to defend Putin’s biased claim that he invaded Ukraine in order to “denazify” the country.

As the row deepens, Israeli leaders face growing pressure to toughen their stance against Moscow.

There are several reasons why Israel was not tougher on Russia during the war. First and foremost, the country’s security considerations: Israel says its northern border with Syria, “for all intents and purposes, is a border with Russia”, in Lapid’s words, due to the military presence Russian there.

Israel regularly carries out airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, which it considers essential to prevent the transfer of precision-guided missile technology to the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Israel is coordinating with the Russians ahead of strikes in Syria and there are fears that if relations with Moscow turn sour, so will Israel’s freedom of action in Syria, which Israel sees as vital to its security .

Israeli officials have also expressed concern that any Israeli action on Ukraine could endanger Russia’s large Jewish population.

Bennett had also tried to act as a mediator, speaking regularly with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin and even secretly flying to Moscow for direct talks with the Russian leader.

Then there’s Iran: Russia is a party to negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Israel opposes the deal and pulls every possible lever to prevent it from returning, and the Bennett said he told Putin about it during his clandestine trip to Moscow.

As the latest volley between Russia and Israel definitely strains relations, analysts note that so far most of Israel’s anger has focused on Lavrov and his Foreign Ministry, and not on Putin.

Although Israeli media began reporting on Tuesday that Israeli officials are preparing to send defensive military equipment to Ukraine for the first time, Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York and chief of staff of the former Israeli President Shimon Peres, does not. think a lot will change.

“If there is to be a change in policy, it is the belated realization that Israel has essentially sided with the losing side in this conflict, not because of atrocities, war crimes , invasion, etc., but because you’re basically on the losing side and there’s a price to pay,” Pinkas told CNN.

That could change, however, if the situation escalates to the point that Israel’s ambassador is expelled from Russia, for example, Pinkas said.

“In this case, Israel has no choice but to abandon its policy and adopt a new one,” Pinkas said. “But if the Russians don’t do this and it’s just a rhetorical war of words that will die out in two days? Then nothing fundamental has changed.”

The summary

Venezuela and Iran, both under US sanctions, to ‘collaborate on energy’

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met with Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji on Tuesday to “deepen ties of brotherhood and cooperation in energy matters”, as Maduro put it.

  • Background: Both Iran and Venezuela are under US sanctions and have recently deepened their oil relations. Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reported that Owji was leading a delegation of more than a dozen officials “on a visit deemed important for Iran-Venezuela relations and efforts to neutralize the impact of US sanctions.”
  • why is it important: The visit comes as talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers have stalled. A deal would lift sanctions on Iran’s energy exports and ease the rise in global oil prices. Iran has, over the past two years, sent several shipments of gasoline to Venezuela, Press TV reported.

Death of Egyptian researcher requires investigation, says US State Department

The US State Department said on Monday that the death of an Egyptian researcher required a “thorough, transparent and credible investigation”, adding that the United States was “deeply disturbed” by “allegations of torture while in custody”.

  • Background: Egyptian economic researcher Ayman Hadhoud was arrested in February by local security services, who then sent him to a psychiatric hospital in Cairo, where he died. Rights group Amnesty International said its investigation findings suggested torture or other ill-treatment before his death. Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office said it found no evidence of criminal violence in the researcher’s death, according to Reuters.
  • why is it important: In January, the Biden administration withheld $130 million in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, but days earlier had approved the potential sale of radars and aircraft air defense for more than 2.5 billion dollars. The United States has repeatedly asserted “the importance of human rights” in dialogue with Egypt, but the nation remains a strategic security partner for the United States and its regional allies.

Turkey announces plan to return 1 million Syrian refugees

Turkey is preparing a plan to persuade nearly a million Syrian refugees to voluntarily return to Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. He did not say how he will persuade the refugees to return.

  • Background: Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees and has the largest refugee population of any country, according to the United Nations. The national currency is falling, causing record inflation. Opposition figures blamed the economic hardship in part on the refugees, and social media saw growing anti-refugee sentiment.
  • why is it important: The announcement comes ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year as Erdogan’s immigration policy faces criticism from opposition parties. Turkish officials, including Erdogan, have said the country is unable to handle the entry of more refugees.

What to watch

Before the war in Ukraine, Egypt’s economy was recovering relatively quickly, International Monetary Fund Middle East and Central Asia director Jihad Azour told CNN. But Ukraine’s dependence on Russia for wheat imports and tourism means the recovery has been hurt, he said.

Watch the interview here.

Around the region

Iran’s strict alcohol laws often force those who cannot afford expensive counterfeit drinks to resort to drinking local varieties made without regulation and with little experience.

The practice is dangerous and, as state media sometimes points out, can often result in death. Its latest victims were in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, where eight people died and dozens were poisoned by homemade alcohol, the official IRNA news agency said on Monday.

Fifty-nine people suffered from alcohol poisoning in the city, Fatemeh Norouzian, a spokeswoman for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences, was quoted by IRNA as saying. Seventeen of those hospitalized are in critical condition, she added, including four with “severe blurred vision”.

The consumption of alcohol is prohibited by Iranian Islamic law and its consumption can be punished by public flogging, which is rarely practiced.

Only members of religious minorities such as Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are allowed to make and drink alcohol, as long as it is done in private.

Despite the ban, alcohol consumption is widespread in the country behind closed doors and among the wealthy.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

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