Can Israel thread the needle between Russia and Ukraine?

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On February 4, 2022, Israeli outlets reported that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba Express his country’s interest in deepening defensive cooperation with Israel and acquiring sophisticated air defense and cyber technologies. The minister also hoped that the Israeli government would play a more active diplomatic role in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. These statements follow a conversation between Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which they discussed the situation in Ukraine, among other topics. It was also one of the topics of a February 6 phone call conversation between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Some Israeli observers have speculated that the United States may have suggested that Israel should become more involved in mediation between Russia and Ukraine, given its well-developed relations with both. Additionally, in mid-January, news leaked that Bennett allegedly Free President Vladimir Putin will host the two countries at a summit in Jerusalem. However, a spokesperson for the Russian President declared that his government never received an official invitation.

Indeed, Israel’s position is unique. The country has deep and complex relations with Russia and Ukraine. In particular, its ties with Russia have evolved considerably in recent years. For example, under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, bilateral relations developed considerably. Between 2009 and 2020, Netanyahu visited Moscow seventeen times. Similarly, in 2005, Putin became the first The Russian leader is due to visit Israel, and he did so again in 2012. More importantly, in 2017 Putin’s government recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Then in May 2018, Netanyahu was a guest during the parade during the “Victory Day” celebrations. It was indeed a very visible presence given that over the same period Russia found itself progressively more isolated and at odds with the United States and many of its Western European partners following annexation. of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Significantly, Israel did not condemn the act and its diplomats were visibly absent during the year 2014 UN General assembly vote who condemned Russia’s actions. Although this was formally explained by a chance strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, researcher Alexei Vasiliev observed that the message from Tel Aviv was unequivocal. Furthermore, Israel has neither sanctioned nor excluded all Russian diplomats, despite pressure from the West to do so. This emphasizes that the reports between Russia and Israel are indeed special, constructive and transparent.

Given the current crisis over Ukraine, Israel is unlikely to take quick, let alone dramatic, action. What is more likely is that the Israelis will watch developments and wait. Even other allies of the United States, particularly those in Western Europe, are not united on how to resolve the situation. At the beginning of February, the French President Emmanuel Macron became the latest Western leader to engage in personal diplomacy in hopes of defusing tensions by promising to build concrete security guarantees for all parties involved. This situation gives some respite to states like Israel which are not directly affected by the crisis and wish to remain neutral. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Russia’s envoy to Israel claims that the Ukrainian crisis is not a subject of his discussions with his Israeli colleagues and that the two States had many other more relevant subjects on which to work.

Israeli observers point out that their country has little to gain from being involved. As a prominent journalist Put the: “[from] From Israel’s point of view, the borders of Europe are a matter for the decision of the great powers. This is due to the complexity of the issue, the magnitude rivalry between the United States and Russia, and the importance of maintaining good relations with Russia given its involvement in various crises in the Middle East. Although Israel is a close ally of the United States and maintains friendly ties with Ukraine, the Israelis focus on that they respect the views of Russia. Indeed, what motivates this point is that the Russian army is present on the border with Israel (in Syria), has developed a system of Communication and coordination with the Israelis, and even tolerates sporadic Israeli attacks against perceived threats on Syrian soil. Indeed, Russia is a de facto ally of Syria, adversary neighbor to the north of Israel. It has deployed advanced air defense systems in Syria and could limit some of Israel’s operations in the country. It had made a priority for Israel to to keep “open lines of communication” with Moscow. Like former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared— the two have established a crisis “hotline” to manage tensions.

Moreover, Israel has an interest in keeping Moscow close because of its ties to Iran, another regional enemy of the Israeli government. Russia and Iran have developed a cooperative relationship, and Moscow is an important party to complicated multi-state negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel views as a serious security threat. Needless to add that Russia and Israel too to share a common cause in the fight against terrorism – something that brought them together in the early 2000s, when Israel was one of the few countries not to criticize Russia for its human rights record during the war from Chechnya. At the time, Sharon, then Prime Minister rented Russia and saw a commonality between Russia’s struggle in the Caucasus and Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorist groups. However, it should be noted that Russia – like the eminent Russian Middle East expert Vitaly Naumkin underline— was not always rushing to add certain groups to the terrorist list, as she felt this would complicate future relations with them. Indeed, the visit to Moscow in 2006 of the leaders of Hamas – who had won the Palestinian elections a few months earlier –angry Israel and was considered opposite existing principles in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (namely, that Hamas should renounce violence against Israel, recognize it and accept existing agreements). However, the Russians insisted that Hamas should have time to “change”, to recognize Israel and to learn from the army of the Republic of Ireland.

More broadly, Russia’s actions are tied to Moscow’s overall diplomatic posture in the Middle East. Since its “return” to the Middle East, Moscow has adopted a flexible approach to dealing with the various players in the Middle East. He showed a willingness to talk to all key regional players, including the so-called “rascals– which opened the door to communication and elevated the role of Russia. In fact, according to Russian scholar Andrey KortunovRussia has apparently transformed itself into an “honest broker”, which has succeeded in maintaining constructive relations with all interlocutors: Sunnis and Shiites, Iran and the Gulf monarchies, Turks and Kurds, but also Israelis and Palestinians.

But there are also those who are more skeptical of Russia’s regional strategy. Some scholars see it is mostly an extension of Russia’s obsessive need to compete with the United States and hamper Washington’s activities in the region, even at the cost of becoming a spoiler. Others question the true extent of Russia’s ability to influence events, even in places like Syria where Moscow is entrenched. Nevertheless, for Israel, Moscow can still be a valuable partner, given that it has open communication with Iran and perhaps even an ability to influence or restrict some of the latter’s activities.

This cordial relationship with Tel Aviv has also been beneficial for Moscow. As Russia found itself more isolated from the West following clashes with Georgia and Ukraine, Israel became a The source Western technology for Russia. In 2010, the two countries signed an important military-technical agreement that allowed Russia to later produce Israeli drones on Israeli licenses. Indeed, the agreement was important given that Russia was behind in unmanned aerial vehicle technology at the time, and its forces suffered losses to Israeli-made Georgian drones during the 2008 war. Moreover, Israel was prepared to refuse the sale of its drones to Ukraine in 2014, reduced some arms sales to Georgia, and even reported how he share Georgian drone “data link codes” to Russia in exchange for intelligence on Iran’s air defenses. Russia would also, it seems, request Israel must pressure the United States to lift some of the sanctions imposed on the Syrian government to allow Russian companies to help rebuild the country.

Israel and Russia share an additional bond in preserving the memory of their peoples’ sacrifice during World War II. Israeli officials point out that half a million Jewish soldiers fought in the Red Army and a Soviet officer was the first to enter the Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. As Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid underline last October on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries: “The Jewish people and the State of Israel will forever remember the decisive contribution of the Red Army to the victory over the Nazi Germany and the liberation of concentration and extermination camps. Indeed, in 2012, Israel unveiled a statue in memory of the soldiers of the Red Army. His survival Veterans celebrate Victory Day on May 9 every year by donning their uniforms. This is something that Russia values greatly, especially when he also works to counter what he sees as efforts to rewrite history and glorify Nazism.

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