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Israel's Support for Ukraine Could Be Costly

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, llast year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, llast year.Credit: Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Neutrality was never really an option. You can’t make noise like a global military, nuclear and economic power; drive the world crazy with your problems, whether it’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Iranian threat; sell arms and export spyware like there’s no tomorrow, or borders; meddle in the domestic politics of other countries, including the American superpower – as happened under Benjamin Netanyahu – and then, where there is an international conflict, act like a nice little country, a savannah of unicorns and Pegasuses.

Indeed, a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had already changed his tune. “If there is an invasion, we’ll choose the Americans. ... We are with the West.” He later explained that Israel is more cautious than the United States and Britain for two reasons, the first being the fact that Israel shares a border with Syria. “Our situation is similar to that of the Baltic states,” he said. “We have a border with Russia at the border with Syria for all intents and purposes.” The second reason is concern for the safety of the Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine. In other words, one Israeli excuse and one Jewish excuse.

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Lapid hoped the Jewish excuse would be enough, and that the world would give the Jewish state some moral slack. The Jewish communities are a strong card for someone who wants to play neutral. Supposedly, Israel’s commitment to all Jews prevents it from taking a position on global conflicts. Lapid squeezed every last drop from this lemon in an attempt to remain on the fence, when he still hoped there would be no invasion. “Israel is not only the Israelis’ country, but also the capital of the Jewish world. We have a responsibility to every Jew, surely to Jews who are in an area of trouble and distress.”

The problem is that under Netanyahu Israel neglected the interests of the Jewish communities when it supported anti-liberal or populist governments, which are never “good for the Jews”: the problematic relations that Netanyahu cultivated with the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia); his dangerous support for Donald Trump and terrible relations with the Obama administration. And Russian leader Vladimir Putin, of course. All to obtain support for perpetuating the occupation and other ills. Netanyahu was a central player in shaping a new world order, including in the Middle East, that, among other things, led to the creation of a common border between Israel and Russia and the need to obtain Russian approval for attacks in Syria.

But the attempt to remain neutral did not work. Israel was forced to decide whether it is with the West or against it. The result: Israel is now at the front. And this could be more dangerous than having less freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. We got a hint of this a month ago, when Russian and Syrian planes jointly patrolled the Golan Heights near the Israel border, and Russia even announced that both states plan to make such patrol flights routine. Indeed, as soon as Israel issued a statement of support for Ukraine, Russia declared that it does not recognize “Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, which are an inseparable part of Syria.”

It’s true that the Netanyahu government is gone, but it’s possible that the situation it created – Israel’s withdrawal from “the West” – cannot be repaired by public declarations alone. Lapid and, on Thursday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as well, tried in their remarks to give weight to the government’s Jewish role, not its Israeli sovereignty role, to retreat from the front. But these declarations are liable to have harsh side effects, from limits on Israel’s offensive capability in Syria to scenarios involving an old-new enemy on the northern front. But in the context of renewing the fundamental partnership with the West, Israel must keep in mind that it may be required to pay a high price. That’s how it is in a partnership: You have to pay, not only to demand. This will be yet another bill that Netanyahu left for others to pay.

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