Israel to U.S.: Opposing Russia Would Endanger Our Security

White House remains incensed over Jerusalem’s breaking of ranks over Ukraine.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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The UN Security Council.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel has told the United States over the past two weeks of its concerns that taking a public stance against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine could cause real damage to its security interests, an Israeli official involved in the talks with Washington told Haaretz on Sunday.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that Washington is incensed that Jerusalem has not come out openly against Russia’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula. A senior U.S. official said one of the reasons for the White House’s anger was Israel’s absence two weeks ago at a UN General Assembly vote to condemn the Russian invasion and support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The talks over the past two weeks, in which Israel explained its position on Ukraine and why it was absent from the vote, have been taking place both at the working diplomatic level on both sides, but also at a more senior rank. The Israeli official said that while both the U.S. State Department and Congress have shown understanding for Israel’s position, the White House remained unconvinced by the explanations.

American dissatisfaction with Israel’s policy came up in a meeting last week in Washington between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Leiberman explained that Israel had not attended the UN vote because of the Foreign Ministry employees’ strike. He said that during the last strike, three years ago, then-president of Russia Dmitry Medvedev had to call off a planned visit to Israel at the last minute, and the Russians had understood and not been angry. Rice listened to Lieberman, but stressed that the administration was disappointed in Israel’s conduct.

According to the Israeli official, Israel told the Americans,in a series of talks with at various levels, that even if it had supported of condemning Russia, the significance for the United States would be only symbolic. However, it could have meant real damage to Israel’s ties with Russia.

Unlike the Americans, Germans and British, Israel told the United States, according to the official, “we are close to the chemical weapons in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program, over which Russia has a decisive influence, and so a clash with Moscow could hurt our security.”

The head of security in the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, told Army Radio on Sunday morning: Israel looks at the conflict in Ukraine and focuses on our present and our future…the United States is involved as it is involved but we don’t have to define our interest as identical to the interest of another entity, even the United States.”

A senior Israeli official said that in one of the meetings, an American counterpart of his said: “For years you wanted us to help you get into the WEOG [Western European and Others], and we did. If you want to be in a group of Western countries, you’d better starting acting like it, on the Ukrainian issue as well.”

Following Sunday’s report in Haaretz, the chairman of the Knesset caucus on Israel-U.S. ties, MK Nachman Shai (Labor) asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is also chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to call an urgent meeting of the committee over what he called “Israel’s decision to refrain from a critical vote in the United Nations and thus causing great disappointment to all our friends, first and foremost the United States.”

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