Recently, Ukraine and 152 other states, including Russia, voted in support of a UN General Assembly resolution calling on Israel to get rid of nuclear weapons. As a result, Russia and Ukraine were symbolically "on the same side." With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continuing to ask Israel for more and more help , Kiev's vote in favor of the resolution highlights the complexity of the Israel-Ukraine-Russia triangle.
Russia and Ukraine are symbolically "on the same side"
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Israeli government has tried to balance different interests: it condemned the invasion and provided substantial humanitarian assistance, but did not join Western sanctions against Russia. In addition, Kyiv's request for the supply of lethal weapons was met with a refusal. Israel is one of the few countries that could provide Ukraine with air defense systems, including the Iron Dome, that it needs to protect civilians from Russian missiles. But Israel refused to supply these systems of power.
Israel is one of the few countries that could provide Ukraine with air defense systems
At the initial stage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Israeli government made controversial statements, refraining from direct condemnation of Russian aggression, and spoke out with condemnation only after reproaches from Washington. Naftali Benet, as prime minister, rarely mentioned Russia and Putin in public, while then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid regularly denounced the invasion. In this sense, the Israeli government danced a rhetorical ballet on a diplomatic rope. In October, Lapid, now prime minister, publicly blamed Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, the first such statement to come out only seven months after the invasion. However, Israel did not start supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine.
To be fair, the Israeli leadership has stressed since the beginning of the war that the security of their country depends on freedom of military action in Syria. Namely, from the ability to strike at forces and objects receiving Iranian support, in the conditions of Russian control over airspace, as well as the military and political weight of Russia and Syria. In other words, Israel's ability to contain Iran in Syria depends on maintaining friendly relations with Russia. As Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky stated , “the threats to Israel's security, the threats to the lives of the Israeli military and civilian population are enormous. We put the interests of our country first and must be careful.”
However, Zelensky, who discussed with Lapid and Benet the possibility of acquiring Israeli air defense systems, heard a completely different excuse: Israel allegedly needed the batteries for its own defense. “I understand that they [Israelis] need to protect their land. But, according to our intelligence, Israel supplies [air defense systems] to other states. It turns out that they can still sell and export them, which caused my shock,” Zelensky explained .
The US authorities recognize the legitimacy of Israel's concerns about its security, but believe that assistance to Ukraine still needs to be expanded. And in early March, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland pointed out to Israel that it was unacceptable to take "dirty money" from Russian oligarchs, and urged Israel to join the anti-Russian sanctions.
US acknowledges legitimacy of Israel's security concerns since Russian invasion of Ukraine
Approximately 15% of the population of Israel are immigrants from the CIS countries - mainly Russia and Ukraine - and their descendants. Polls show a strong majority of Israelis support Ukraine , although there is a sizeable minority that opposes arms sales to it. At the same time, thousands of peaceful protests took place in the country with calls for the government to strengthen military support for Ukraine.
Natan Sharansky, a former member of the Israeli Cabinet of Ministers, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center and a former Soviet political prisoner, spoke out about the need to help Ukraine from the very beginning of the war. “This support is needed not only by the Ukrainian people, but also by us as part of the free world, because Vladimir Putin has encroached on the foundations of the free world and seeks to take away our freedom from us,” he said . Sharansky is not alone in his position. Alon Liel, former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, admitted in a recent interview: “If the war ends in favor of the West, no one will forget that Israel refused to contribute. With our current policy, we are betraying the West.”
“If the war ends in favor of the West, no one will forget that Israel refused to contribute”
Israel's fears about its security are indeed not groundless. Russia decided to put pressure on Israel, jeopardizing its ability to receive immigrants with Jewish roots - the closure of the Sokhnut came up as soon as it became known that Israeli defense companies were supplying Ukraine with systems to destroy drones through Poland. But, more importantly, the Russian authorities can make life very difficult for Israel, not only by oppressing Jews or limiting Israeli military operations in Syria, but also by strengthening relations with Iran. Russia is increasingly using Iranian drones against Ukraine, and relations between Tehran and Moscow are moving towards a strategic partnership.
For years, the Israeli leadership believed that Russia could help deter Iranian aggression by limiting Tehran's military presence in Syria. It has now become clear that the Russian authorities have no choice but to rely more and more on Iran, including in Syria. The motivation of the Israeli government in Syria is clear : it is much more profitable for Israel to interact there with Russia than with Iran. However, today the facts indicate that Moscow and Tehran have become full-fledged strategic partners. And while Russia can indeed make life difficult for Israel, the latter also has leverage. It is unlikely that Russia needs another full-scale bilateral conflict against the backdrop of huge losses in Ukraine. From this point of view, the interests of Ukraine and Israel coincide.
It is unlikely that Russia needs another bilateral conflict amid huge losses in Ukraine
In 2015, it was the naivete of then US President Barack Obama, namely his mistaken assumption that Russia would get bogged down in the Syrian conflict, that allowed Moscow to come close to the Israeli doorstep in Syria. Ultimately, everyone understands that Israel is in a difficult position. But this value-based state is a member of the family of free liberal nations.
In November, another change of leadership took place in Israel - Benjamin Netanyahu again became prime minister. The same Netanyahu who has been proud of his relationship with Putin for years. Ukraine will be an important test of his strategic positions. He could start working with the Biden administration, and the US authorities, in turn, could find ways for Israel to provide significant support to the Ukrainians.
After eight months of invasion, Putin remains committed to the destruction of Ukraine. And while Ukrainians have made important progress in recent weeks, there is no end in sight to the war. The future of the liberal world order remains at stake.