In the scenario of the war between Russia and Ukraine, many countries have come forward with their standing against Russia’s actions and have imposed sanctions on it while suspending their businesses as well. These countries include the US, UK, Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand; the sanctions majorly target the banks, military exports, and oil refineries in Russia. However, there are a number of countries that have maintained neutrality and neither supported Russia nor have imposed sanctions on it. South Asian states except for India, and Israel have maintained neutrality in this conflict.
The current government of Israel refused to accept President Biden’s request to co-sponsor a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s actions. The step prime minister Bennet preferred taking was to mediate between the two parties. Naftali Bennet came to power last year when the previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted by Israel’s 8 ideologically disparate parties. Naftali Bennet has previously served in different Cabinet positions, but he lacks the international experience that his predecessor possessed necessary to carry out the relations in the international arena. Bennet’s neutrality in this critical time and deciding to intervene as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine will be a test like no other for him but it will also prove to be beneficial for him because being involved in such a high profile conflict can make his future in politics brighter.
Prime minister Bennet has maintained his alliance with both Russia and Ukraine. He remained in contact with the presidents of both the warring countries. He is the only western prime minister who has visited Russia since the invasion began. According to Bennet, he was asked by the presidents of both countries to mediate with them.
The neutrality maintained by Israel raised many questions in people’s minds, keeping in mind that Israel is an open ally of the West. However, the cautious stance of Israel seems valid as it needs to maintain its relations with Russia. Israel is one of the few states that has a good relationship with Russia and Ukraine. With Russia, the relations are of strategic importance; Russia has a military presence in Syria and Russia controls most of the airspace over Syria. Israel is dependent on Russia for security coordination as the Israeli military carries out attacks on Syrian land claiming them to be stacked for weapons, Iranian weapon facilities, meant to be used against them as well as weapon convoys designed for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group, which are positioned just over Israel’s northern border. During the civil war, the Syrian government needed Russian assistance against the rebels and allowed Russia to establish naval and air bases on the port of Latakia and Hmeimim airbase. Many of the Russian surface-to-air missile systems like S-300 and S-400 have not yet been operated in Syria and the government forces have not yet been allowed to do so as well. Israel’s main goal is to maintain that status quo and keep the upper hand in the conflict to keep hitting its targets in Syria.
Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members and in that capacity is also one of the states that is participating in the negotiations in reviving Israel’s global nuclear deal with Iran which is taking place in Vienna. Israel fears the aftermath if a new deal is signed, as there will be an expiry date for the deal which will allow Iran to continue work on its nuclear program. Secondly, the supervising international regime over its nuclear activities and inspecting the nuclear sites will be weak and there will be no control over Iran’s developing ballistic missile program.
Both situations require Israel to not anger Vladimir Putin as they are of much importance for Israel. Whereas with Ukraine, Israel has helped the Ukrainians by airlifting 100 tons of aid and have announced to set up a field hospital to help the refugees there, around six mega-generators are to be delivered to power a hospital in Lviv, and a field hospital near the Polish border. There will be 80 Israeli medical personnel working to aid the Ukrainians.
A huge number of Jewish Ukrainians have fled their homes and are headed to Israel. All Jews are allowed to migrate to Israel and get Israeli citizenship under the ‘Law of Return’. The Law of Return allows for Jewish families that are living in countries other than Israel to return whenever they like as an Oleh, an immigrant, and will be eligible for Israeli citizenship. The government of Israel is preparing for the arrival of thousands of Ukrainian Jews, maybe even more if the conflict escalates. As of now, there are 3000 Ukrainians that have arrived in Israel and around 200,000 are on their way.
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As Israel is working to welcome Ukrainian refugees, it has refused to help Ukrainians with nonlethal military aid like helmets, bullet-proof vests, and the highly esteemed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries. This decision might put Israel out of line with Washington which is its most important ally and one that is neck-deep in efforts to sanction Russia and other high-level officials of the Kremlin and oligarchs.
Israel’s position in the current conflict is complicated; Israel needs to maintain its neutrality in the face of this adversity since supporting either party will cause it to lose the other ally. The United States and Russia both hold an important value for Israel. The current stance is taken very strategically because Israel needs to maintain its position in the international community. At this time Israel is the most powerful country in the Middle East and it is also one without good relations with its neighbors. Since its inception, Israel has faced a number of conflicts by the Arab nations that aimed at obliterating the state, global boycotts, de-legitimization campaigns, attention by the UN for violating human rights but has always come out of it as the victorious one. There may be no doubt in Bennet’s mind that in this time of uncertainty they can come out on the top as well.
While Israel is keeping its unbiased approach in the Russia-Ukraine war, what it needs to realize is that if the war blows out and the West gets involved, the world will be divided into blocs; Russia will look on towards China and Iran for support. Israel should be aware that its neutrality now can cost it some of the most important allies in the western hemisphere in the future. Whatever approach Bennet might want to adopt, will have consequences that Israel needs to weigh before making a solid choice.
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