Opinion |

What Right Does Israel Have to Preach Morality to Russia?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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IDF tanks stationed at the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights
IDF tanks stationed at the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights Credit: Gil Eliyahu
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

With exaggerated caution, Israel has been walking a tight rope with a sharp, deadly edge, which stretches from Jerusalem to Moscow and threatens to strangle it. With its own hands, Israel tied this rope around its neck when it forged a “military alliance” with Russia under which Moscow allows it to attack Syria as if the latter were its private playground.

Israel sees this freedom of action as being of supreme military importance, since Israel seeks to prevent Hezbollah from receiving arms and any other sophisticated military equipment that makes its way from Iran through Damascus to Beirut. Without close coordination with the Kremlin and the Russian air force contingent stationed at the Khmeimim base in Syria’s Latakia district, Israeli planes wouldn’t be able to block this arms route.

It has become an axiom that good relations with Russia are a necessary condition for Israel’s offensive tactic, though it’s unclear how effective it has been at stopping Hezbollah’s arms procurement – especially given intelligence estimates that the organization already has more than 130,000 missiles aimed at Israel.

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Israel also hoped that attacking Iranian targets in Syria would hasten the exit of the Iranian and pro-Iranian forces that have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad and thwart Iran’s entrenchment near the border with Israel.

These justifications are so deeply rooted in Israelis’ minds that there’s virtually no public debate about them. It’s as if this arrangement has always existed and will continue to exist forever as long as Israel continues placating Russia.

The fundamental question is why hasn’t Israel attacked and destroyed Hezbollah’s established missile bases in Lebanon? If these missiles, and the fear that they will become more accurate, are the main threat against us, Lebanon should be marked as a target.

The accepted explanation is that because of the balance of deterrence between Israel and Hezbollah, any Israeli attack on Lebanon would automatically provoke a response that could endanger Israeli lives. In contrast, destroying missiles in Syria has not provoked any such response so far.

This is a nice explanation, but it contains an inherent absurdity that’s hard to reconcile. According to this argument, Israel wants to maintain the balance of deterrence that has been created between it and Hezbollah. Therefore, it only seeks to prevent Hezbollah from building up its arsenal any further. It’s as if there is some kind of symmetry between the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah, and if Hezbollah were to violate this symmetry it would amplify the threat that the organization poses to Israel.

This dubious theory has granted Russia special status as a protector of Israeli security, and now it is exacting a high diplomatic price. Israel has been forced to run in the opposite direction from the international community, which is boycotting Russia and imposing heavy economic sanctions. Consequently, Israel now seems hypocritical. At the moment of truth, it won’t even dare to condemn the Russian invasion wholeheartedly.

Firefighters douse flames after an Israeli missile attack on a container storage area, in Latakia, SyriaCredit: SANA / REUTERS

One might ask what right does Israel have to preach morality to Russia anyway? After all, it is also an occupying power that systematically abuses the people under its control.

In this regard, a comparison with Turkey may be instructive. Even though Turkey has occupied Northern Cyprus and currently controls some parts of Syria, these facts didn’t prevent it from forcefully condemning the invasion of Ukraine, exploring the possibility of shutting the straits of Bosporus and the Dardanelles to Russian warships and signing the UN Security Council letter supporting Ukraine against Russia. This bold stance endangers Turkey far more than a similar stance would have endangered Israel.

Israel sees great value in Russia’s permission to visit Syrian airspace. Indeed, Israel evidently considers this military tactic more valuable than its membership in the international community, even though the latter has committed to protecting Israel’s existence, including by preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So far, we haven’t heard any similar pledge from Russia.

Effectively, Israel position is based on the assumption that it will be forgiven anything, because it is the eternal victim, beside whom even Ukraine pales. In the near future, it believes, it will once again be able to mobilize support against Iran without anyone bringing up how it remained silent when by its ally’s army occupied Ukraine.

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