Despite Public Support for Ukraine, Israeli Leaders Stay Vague on Moscow's Invasion

Israel rejects U.S. request to back Security Council move to condemn Moscow, but is expected to vote yes in the General Assembly

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Monday.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Monday.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel's rejection of an American request to join the countries sponsoring a resolution condemning Russia at the UN Security Council is the latest twist in the series of zigzags taken by its leadership over the invasion of Ukraine.

Even though Israel has publicly expressed its support for Ukraine, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid formally blaming Russia for the attack, the leaders are continuing to maintain a vague stance toward Moscow. The American delegation to the UN appealed Friday to all envoys of states not represented in the Security Council, including Ambassador Gilad Erdan, and asked their support for the condemnation the U.S. was seeking. This was meant to allow the U.S. administration to present resounding support for the condemnation.

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Jerusalem deliberated for hours, finally instructing Erdan not to join the proposal. “Israel is not a member of the Security Council and this resolution would not have passed in any case because of the Russian veto,” said a Foreign Ministry official, adding that the decision was designed to gain more time in light of Israel’s delicate relations with Russia. He hinted that deferring such action was temporary, because when the resolution comes to a vote at the General Assembly, where Israel will need to vote, it will get off the fence and officially support the resolution.

Along with the wish to maintain good relations with Moscow, mainly to allow the military to continue operating in Syria, Israeli political leaders have found it very difficult to assess the real intentions of President Vladimir Putin, and failed to foresee the invasion. For weeks, assessments were that Putin would not invade Ukraine, and that the Americans were inflating their intelligence that said he would. Some officials believed the U.S. was deliberately intensifying the confrontation, seeing it as an opportunity to bolster President Joe Biden’s weak image in the international arena.

A month ago, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a closed meeting of coalition party head  that “nothing will happen.” Lapid gave public expression to Israel’s difficulty in reading the map a week later, in an interview with the Walla news website, in which he dismissed the possibility of a military confrontation. “I don’t see a violent confrontation in the near future,” he said. “I also don’t think a world war will break out.” Lapid’s statement created a diplomatic incident, with Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, rushing on to social media to register his shock at Lapid’s words. This led to the ambassador’s summons for a rebuke by the Foreign Ministry.

The turning point in Israel’s approach to the conflict occurred at around February 9. Israel continued to receive information and assessments from the U.S. administration and other countries. The cumulative data led Israel’s leaders to assess that the risk of a military conflict had grown.

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