War in Ukraine Forced Israel to Have a Delicate Equilibrium Act

Phone AVIV – On Russia Invades UkraineThe Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, did not mention Russia once. Mr. Bennett said he had prayed for peace, called for dialogue and promised support for the citizens of Ukraine. But he did not allude to Moscow’s involvement, much less condemn it – and this allowed Mr. Bennett’s foreign minister Yair Lapid, Yair Lapid, to criticize Moscow in a separate statement that day.

The couple’s cautious double action demonstrates a bond, in which the war in Ukraine has placed Israel.

Israel is an important partner of the United States and many Israelis appreciate the longstanding cultural ties with Ukraine which, for several months in 2019, was the only country outside of their own to have a Jewish president. – Volodymyr Zelensky – and the Jewish prime minister. . But Russia is an important player in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Israel’s neighbor and northeastern foe, and the Israeli government believes it cannot risk losing Moscow’s favor.

For most of the past decade, the Israeli Air Force has attacked Iran, Syria and Lebanon military targets in Syria without interference, try to stop the flow of weapons Iran sends their proxy in both Syria and Lebanon and to limit the military buildup on its northern border.

Israel also wants to leave enough room for itself to act as a mediator in the conflict. Following Ukraine’s demands, Mr Bennett at least twice offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, most recently on Sunday – when Mr Bennett abruptly left a cabinet meeting to speak with Mr. Russian President Putin for 40 minutes. Two senior Israeli officials said that Israeli officials, including Mr. Bennett, had a meeting between their Russian, Ukrainian and American counterparts on Sunday afternoon, a mediation that may have contributed to Ukraine. decided to meet Russian officials on the Belarus-Ukraine border.

Israel, which often asks its allies for unconditional support, finds itself in the uncomfortable position of refusing to openly criticize Russia, even when other nations appear to be under threat. more threatened to condemn Putin’s war.

Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister who frequently dealt with Putin during his time in office, said it was a “delicate situation for Israel”.

“On the one hand, Israel is an ally of the United States and part of the West, and there is no doubt about that,” Mr. Olmert said in a phone interview. “On the other hand, the Russians are present in Syria, we have delicate military and security issues in Syria – and that requires a certain freedom for the Israeli military to act in Syria.”

Israel also wants to avoid taking any action that could incite anti-Semitism against hundreds of thousands of Jews in both Ukraine and Russia.

And Israeli officials must simultaneously consider the reaction of Israel’s large Russian-speaking community, who make up about 12 percent of the country’s total electorate. About 1.2 million Russian-speakers have come to Israel from the former Soviet Union over the past three decades, about a third of them from Russia, and about the same from Ukraine, according to government figures.

Some of them even returned to Ukraine to defend their original homeland.

“Yes, I love Israel, but I have two countries and I need to protect both,” said Mykhailo Baikov, 25, an Israel-Ukraine digital marketer now fighting in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. that country.

“This is a war,” Baikov said in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon. “I need to do my job.”

Israel’s primary concern is to maintain its ability to act in Syria with impunity and without Russian interference.

But Russia also maintains a significant presence in Syria, and Israel needs Moscow’s goodwill to continue operating there comfortably. Israeli officials are now informing their Russian counterparts of impending air strikes and vice versa, using a specially encrypted communication line between the Israeli Air Force’s underground bunker, located under the military base. in Tel Aviv and the Khmeimim airbase in western Syria, a senior Israeli defense department. official said.

Any change to that relationship could complicate both Israeli and Russian strategies in Syria. In September 2018, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles hit an Israeli plane hit Russian planes passed through the area by chance. It crashed and all 15 Russian soldiers on board were killed.

Russian planes have been operating more around the Syrian border in recent weeks, both on the western border with Israel and on the eastern side of Syria, where US planes regularly operate, said senior Israeli defense official. said. The official added that the increase could be a show of force intended to send a signal about the growing Ukraine crisis.

Aware of the need to appease Russia, in recent months, Israel has refused several requests to send military and intelligence equipment to Ukraine, three Israeli officials and one Ukrainian official said. The most recent request was denied Bennett on Friday’s call, the Ukrainian official said.

Even after approval of the sale of Pegasus, an Israeli-made spyware program, to dozens of other countries, Israel has refused to sell it to Ukraine – denying a request last August from a Ukrainian delegation to visit Israel to discuss the the purchase of spyware, according to an Israeli official and two people familiar with the matter. And Ukraine never formally asked Israel to use its legendary air defense system, known as Iron Dome, precisely because it knew Israel would never agree to supply it, Ukrainian officials said. know.

Instead, Israel has allowed private Israeli companies to sell Ukraine’s robotics and military communications equipment, and on Sunday the country announced deliveries of 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies to the civilian population. usually Ukraine.

Within Israel, the war in Ukraine has divided Russian-speakers along political lines, though not necessarily along national lines.

Eduard Shtrasner, a teacher and businessman who moved to Israel in 1990 from an area that was then part of Moldova, became estranged from some friends of Moldovan descent for expressing a less critical attitude towards with Mr. Putin.

Mr Shtrasner, 48, said: “I am not in favor of war at all. But I can justify what Putin is doing. I read, I listen, I gather information, and if I were him, I would do the same thing.”

However, he admits that in Israel, his position is “not common at all”. Community activists said the invasion was a moment of unity for Russian speakers, with those who once supported Mr Putin now increasingly turning their backs on him.

On Thursday, as Russia began its invasion, the owner of Putin Pub, a bar popular with Russian-speaking Israelis in Jerusalem, removed the golden letters “PUTIN” from the facade and announced that They are looking for a new name for their bar.

“It was our initiative,” said Yulia Kaplan, one of three bar owners who moved to Israel from St.Petersburg, Russia in 1991. “Because we oppose war.”

In 2014, during Russia’s invasion of Crimea, there was a more heated debate on social media between opposition camps of Russian-speaking Israelis, said Ksenia Svetlova, a journalist, academic and former member of the Israeli Parliament who moved to Israel from Moscow in 1991.

“But then there was no violence and bloodshed like now,” Ms. Svetlova said.

Even among the older Russian speakers here, who tend to rely on Russian news media and Admiring strong leadership in the past, there seems to be little sympathy for Mr. Putin this time around.

“There was a sense of shock – people my parents’ age said it was real,” says Pola Barkan, a community activist who moved to Israel as a child in the early 1990s with her family from Ukraine. shameful. “They say their grandparents fought side by side against the Nazis, and the grandsons are now fighting each other.”

Russian speakers in Israel are also preparing for a new wave of Jewish immigration from Ukraine; Anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent can apply for Israeli citizenship.

The Jewish Agency, a worldwide Jewish organization that works in coordination with the Israeli government and assists Jews interested in immigrating to Israel, says it is opening six processing stations for Israelis. potential immigration at Ukraine’s border crossings with Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary.

Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption has planned for a new wave of immigration and made contingency plans, including temporary housing.

Alex Rif, a poet and activist born in Ukraine, said: “I feel like we are back in the 90s. “All those questions, like how many will come.”

Patrick Kingsley and Ronen Bergman reported from Tel Aviv, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Gabby Sobelman contribution report from Tel Aviv, Myra Noveck from Jerusalem and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad from Haifa, Israel. War in Ukraine Forced Israel to Have a Delicate Equilibrium Act

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