Opinion |

The ‘Ten Plagues’ Facing Israel if Russia Invades Ukraine

Israel faces a perfect storm of problems if Russia chooses large-scale military aggression against Ukraine, Israel’s quiet but critical partner

Shimon Briman
Shimon Briman
A Russian T-72B3 tank fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia last month. Russia has now positioned about 125,000 troops close to Ukraine's border
A Russian T-72B3 tank fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in southern Russia last month. Russia has now positioned about 125,000 troops close to Ukraine's borderCredit: AP Photo
Shimon Briman
Shimon Briman

3,000 kilometers separate Jerusalem and Kyiv. And that distance is probably why most Israelis don’t know how much their normal everyday life is already connected to Ukraine, or how much of what they take for granted actually depends on peace and stability in Ukraine.

Those who think a large-scale Russian war against Ukraine cannot affect Israel are very much mistaken. This is why.

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1. Ukraine has been Israel's main grain supplier for more than a decade. Deliveries from Ukraine account for almost 50 percent of Israeli consumption of grain and other cereals. To understand what the loss of Ukrainian grain would mean, simply break off half of your child's sandwich or half of the loaf of bread you bought for breakfast and hide it away out of reach. Because you won't have it anymore.

2. A very large part of the consumption of corn and corn products in Israel is provided by supplies from Ukraine. Israel imports more than $200 million worth of Ukrainian corn annually. Without Ukraine, Israelis can forget dozens of corn products.

To understand what the loss of Ukrainian grain would mean for Israelis, simply break off half your child's sandwich or half the loaf of bread you bought for breakfast and hide it away out of reachCredit: Natan Dvir

3. Israel imports from Ukraine large volumes of barley, rapeseed, and soybeans, as well as agro-processing waste, molasses, beer and vodka production waste, and alfalfa in bales.

Ukraine supplies Israel with a significant share of feed for cows and calves, chickens, turkeys, and for breeding fish and horses. The total volume of Ukraine's agricultural exports to Israel is more than $400 million annually. The Israeli food industry, animal husbandry, and the dairy industry are closely dependent on supplies from Ukraine.

A blow to Ukraine would be a powerful blow to these industries, which directly affect all Israelis: the contents of their plates, cups, and pockets.

4. Ukrainian grain covers 24 percent of all the needs of Egypt and – attention! – 50 percent of Lebanon’s grain supply. In the event of interruptions or even more a shutdown, of the Ukrainian market due to military chaos, Israel's southern and northern neighbors will be hit by severe blows to their food stability.

People pass garbage containers set on fire by anti-government protesters in Beirut, Lebanon two years ago when the government raised the price of bread for the first time in more than a decadeCredit: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

That could lead to food shortages, even famine, in these countries, spurring civil unrest. Hungry, unstable neighbors pose a clear threat to Israel.

5. Ukraine has the most fertile lands in the world, the famous black soil. Over the past decade, it has become a major global player in the food market. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, Ukraine in 2022 should be set to provide 12 percent of world wheat exports, 16 percent of world corn, 18 percent of barley, and 19 per cent of world rapeseed.

Speaking of rapeseed, it's canola oil, diesel fuel additives, and animal feed additives; oleic acids from rapeseed are used from pharmacology to linoleum.

If Russian military aggression forcibly "kicks out" Ukraine from the world food market – or even just temporarily delays sowing, harvesting, processing, and supply – it will create a tsunami effect on a global scale. This will hit not only Israel, but the entire arc of states from North Africa to the Persian Gulf and South Asia, all consumers of Ukrainian exports.

Farmers load straw in the fields outside the town of Brody, 440 kilometers (275 miles) west of Kiev, UkraineCredit: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

6. Two-thirds of Ukraine's agricultural products are grown in the eastern and southern regions of this country – precisely those regions closest to potential strikes from Russia.

The main ports from which Ukrainian exports go to Israel and the Middle East are Odessa and Mariupol, identified by U.S. intelligence as potential targets for a Russian invasion. The blockade of these Ukrainian Black Sea ports by the Russian army and navy would halt the export of agricultural and metallurgical products.

7. About metal: Every year, Israel imports from Ukraine hot-rolled steel, steel bars, ferroalloys, pipes, steel billets, metal structures, as well as timber, plywood, and wood-based panels worth $120 million.

All are extremely important for Israel’s construction industry: for ports, hydraulic structures, military facilities, airports, high-rise buildings, industrial facilities, tunnels, railway lines – wherever reinforced concrete structures are used. Sheet metal from Ukraine is used in Israel for transport, conveyor lines, waste plants, and metalworking.

Oleksandr Pavlov, head of the Ukraine-Israel Business Council, tells me:

"In the event of a war (against Ukraine), it will be extremely difficult to replace all this. And the price will not be so favorable for Israeli importers, and the delivery logistics will definitely be more expensive. The nearest such 'supermarkets' are either in the euro area, or with states hostile to Israel, or very far away, of poor quality or the wrong standards, the wrong assortment and the wrong quantity."

If Russia invades Ukraine, Israeli construction will slow down if not stop due to a lack of materials, including major infrastructure projects. Already painful property price rises will accelerateCredit: Nir Keidar

Israeli construction will slow down, and some will stop due to a lack of materials. Similarly, infrastructure projects of national importance will stall and be pushed back for many years. 2,000 construction workers from Ukraine will stop coming to Israel. People who have taken mortgage loans for new construction will wait longer for their apartments and pay more. The already painful rise in property prices will accelerate.

I will add my own two cents: if there is at least a theoretical option to replace Ukraine on the metal products market, then it is almost impossible to find a replacement for Ukraine on the food and agricultural market. Especially in the face of global food shortages and the seasonal nature of food maturation and production.

8. All this will lead to the fact that, in the event of a major war against Ukraine, the increase in the cost of living in Israel will make our current complaints about rising prices look like child’s play. We are on the verge of the biblical "seven years of hunger," with a sharp rise in food prices.

And I have not yet mentioned the potential wave of refugees from Ukraine in the face of military tension.

9. Israeli high-tech, a key engine of the Israeli economy, has a longtime worker shortage, which has led to Ukraine becoming Israel's main subcontractor for reliable and qualified specialists: almost 45 percent of Israeli high-tech outsourcing is based in Ukraine.

The offices of SimilarWeb, an Israeli hi-tech firm providing online market intelligence, in Kyiv, UkraineCredit: Eliran Rubin

Israeli orders involve 10-17,000 programmers, and some experts talk about almost 20,000 Ukrainian programmers fulfilling orders from Israeli companies.

Israeli startups are today connected by a umbilical cord with Ukrainian subcontractors in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Odessa – exactly the cities that the arrows on military maps forecast as likely targets of Russian military strikes.

Israeli companies are already discussing relocation scenarios with Ukrainian partners, for example, to Poland. But it is obvious to everyone that in the event of a large-scale invasion, there will be interruptions and serious delays in the development of many Israeli high-tech projects.

10. The focus of the U.S., U.K. and EU countries on Ukraine during further Russian aggression will divert their attention and resources from the threat of Iran. And Tehran, in turn, under the guise of a war in Eastern Europe, could make a breakthrough towards nuclear weapons.

Posters of Qassem Solemaini seen in front of missiles displayed in an exhibition in Tehran, Friday.Credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

The position of the West as a collective may turn towards greater compliance with the Iranian nuclear program. They say, "this is less important and less dangerous than the Russia-Ukraine conflict." As a result, Israel may be left face to face the nuclear threat alone.

Zvi Magen, who served as Israel's ambassador to both Russia and Ukraine, has stated that while Israel and Russia currently take the same approach to the Iranian issue, that commonality of views could easily change if current tensions around Ukraine will develop into a general crisis between Russia and the West.

Most immediately, that could have an impact in Syria, where there is a longstanding tacit cooperation between Israel and Russia regarding Israeli strikes on Iranian arms deliveries.

In an effort to source a replacement for Russian gas for Europe in the event of an attack by Moscow on Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden has fastened on Qatar, with its huge gas reserves, but which also funds Islamic radicalism in many parts of the world and is one of the main donors to Hamas. A starring role for Qatar could put stress on the moderate Gulf states’ joint anti-Iranian front with Israel.

All these "ten plagues" could happen if Russia decides on a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, Israel should pray for the stability of its quiet but critical partner. And it should make every effort to deter current and future aggression against Ukraine.

Shimon Briman is a historian, freelance journalist and Israeli expert on Israel-Ukraine relations

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